Uh Oh, Biochemistry

Week one of medical school (not counting our foundational unit) is in the books, and I have a problem.

I don’t learn biochemistry. 

Biochemistry, according to my #1 bro Wikipedia, is “the study of chemical processes within, and relating to, living organisms.” If you zoned out at “chemical,” you’re not alone. I have no idea what biochemistry is either. But it apparently serves as the basis for basically all medicine, so we have to learn it. The following sentence is a real quote from a PowerPoint slide presented this past week:

“Energetic contributors to favorable binding: optimized electrostatic interactions between polar moeities on ligand and protein side chains.”

Do you know what the word “moeities” means? Me neither. Apparently I missed that day on postbac. So, being the good scholar that I am, I looked that one up too: “A moeity is a part of a molecule that may include either whole functional groups or or parts of functional groups as substru-” nope, zoned out.

It took me about an hour to deconstruct the professor’s sentence, which is not the most efficient plan of attack when you have 65 slides per lecture and nine lectures to work through. But if you’d like a human translation for the sentence above – the fruits of my labors, as it is – here it is:

“Proteins in your body stick together with other stuff because biochemistry.”

Cool! I can pass now.

Trying to learn this stuff – which, according to my biochemistry expert friend, may he suffer in everlasting pain, is actually a mere review course – is supposed to be like learning any other subject. Except imagine that your professor speaks only Romanian, you don’t speak anything resembling a Slavic language, and you couldn’t even pronounce the Romanian gymnasts’ names on TV during the 2012 Olympics.

You also constantly feel like you forgot to do something important that day for class, like putting on pants.

That’s what trying to learn biochem feels like.

On a less whiny note, it’s tremendously cool to see what what classmates find interesting about this stuff. For example, an entire chapter of our reading was devoted to hemoglobin NO KEEP READING I PROMISE I’M NOT GOING TO GO SCIENCE ON YOU.

Studying hemoglobin makes sense, given that it’s the carpool van of our bloodstream – it’s responsible for picking up oxygen at home and dropping it off at the pool.

(Okay, okay. Home:Lungs :: Pool:Body Tissues. If you caught that WordMasters reference, you need to get out more. Just like me. Actually, if you remember WordMasters at all, you should go watch SportsCenter and lift something heavy until you kill the nerd leftovers inside of you.)

Anyway. I was reading about this with a co-inmate/friend and he lit up at the part of text that described, in what I thought was overly painful detail, how the actual hemoglobin is made – where it is produced, how it’s packag– oh look a butterfly!

He pointed out to me the following line: “Before it can serve this function, two noncoding stretches of RNA (introns) must be removed from the mRNA precursor sequence, and the remaining three fragments (exons) joined in a linear manner.”

My friend thought this was the coolest thing he had ever seen. “INTRONS MUST BE REMOVED! HOLY CRAP! HOW DOES THAT HAPPEN!? INTRONS, MAN!” is a rough estimate of his level of enthusiasm. I found the subject approximately as interesting as mowing the lawn, and started to drift while he was explaining to me how interesting it was.

Later in the reading, there was a section on how different forms of an enzyme, creatine kinase (CK), can be used to diagnose a heart attack if someone presents with chest pain. I thought THAT was really cool and pointed it out; my friend looked at me like I had just indicated he had stepped in dog feces. Not interested.

Given that way more of our test will probably be on introns rather than CK, I should probably study with this kid a lot more. Maybe enthusiasm is infectious. Until I catch it, though, I need to go pick up a textbook on Romanian, Level 1.

6 thoughts on “Uh Oh, Biochemistry

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