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Biophysics – The Combination of Different Scientific Disciplines

written by: VinceSummers•edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski•updated: 4/22/2011

Biophysics is the melding of a variety of sciences, most notably physics, chemistry and mathematics, for the purpose of evaluating complex biological problems such as those involving macromolecular structure and interactions.

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    Disciplines Methodologies and Equipment

    Biophysics encompasses all levels of biological interaction from the molecular scale, to the cellular scale, to organisms and ecosystems. Biophysics is very sophisticated science, requiring the use of equally sophisticated methodologies and tools. For example, such complicated species as DNA, RNA and lengthy proteins require more than mere chemical study, since larger scale phenomena occur in these species, including molecular folding, partial unraveling of lengthy chains for purpose of replication, and ligand/solvent interactions. Biophysics is thus divided into a number of subdivisionsamong them chemical biophysics, radiation biophysics, cellular biophysics and computational biophysics.

    Biophysics requires the use of instrumentation and techniques not easy to afford. Among these are electron and atomic force microscopes, x-ray crystallography, fluorescent imaging and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Biophysics is not generally viewed as an independent field for study at universities, but research in the field is accomplished through formation of special groups consisting of computer scientists, biologists, chemists, pharmacologists, physiologists and physicists.

    Aspects of biophysics of special interest in certain disciplines are:

    • Structural Biology: proteins, nucleic acids, lipids and carbohydrates
    • Biochemistry and Chemistry: biomolecular structures
    • Computer Science: application of databases
    • Computational Chemistry and Molecular Dynamics: quantum chemistry simulations, e.g. molecular docking
    • Bioinformatics: sequence and structural alignments and protein structures
    • Mathematics: graphs, networks, population modeling, phylogenetics and dynamic systems
    • Medicine and Neuroscience: the study of neural networks, computer models, membranes, gene therapies
    • Pharmacology and Physiology: channel biology, biomolecular interactions, membranes and cellular membranes
    • Physics: stochastic processes, dynamics and biomolecular energy

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    Ongoing Research in Biophysics

    Cutting edge biophysics research projects are underway in many leading universities. For instance, one project at Caltech concerns "the transduction of signals received by cell surface receptors into an appropriate response, as in chemotaxis or transmission of signals across synapses in the nervous system." As another example, Johns-Hopkins University has a number of researchers working on biophysics projects, including RNA folding problems, molecular mechanics of eukaryotic translation, functional analysis of ribosomes and DNA repair. Again, the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine is researching neuroproteomics, neurodegeneration, and intercellular communication through gap junctions and calcium waves.

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    References and Resources

    National Center for Biotechnology Information: Bioinformatics Factsheet

    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: Theoretical and Computational Biophysics Group

    Another Bright Hub article you may enjoy: Genetics of the Cold Virus, by Paul Arnold.