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Monday, May 07, 2012

Biology Versus Chemistry

In a recent In The Pipeline post, Derek Lowe asked the question:
Have any of my chemistry colleagues out there noticed the difference in presentation detail between the two disciplines?
The difference between chemistry and biology is blurred in the pharmaceutical business. For example Derek goes on to say:
...most chemists don't (to me) seem to go to the level of detail that I often see from protein purification people...
Let's take a look at a few protein purification job descriptions and their education requirements.

1) BioForce Solutions:  Protein Purification Scientist - BS degree in Biochemisty, Biology, Chemistry, or Chemical Engineering.  
2) Astellas Pharma: Group Leader, Purification Process Development - Ph.D. in a scientific discipline (Biochemistry, Chemical Engineering, or Biochemical Engineering)
3) Sunrise Systems Inc: Research Associate - BS in Chemical Engineering preferred 
4) Laguna Source: Senior Scientist, Protein Purification - Ph.D. in Biochemical Engineering, Chemical Engineering or related Scientific/Engineering field.
5) R&D Partners: Scientist I II, Purification - BS/MS in Biochemistry, Biology or other relevant discipline 

Okay, we've grabbed five random protein purification job listings. They all involve the purification of proteins. Out of the five jobs how many required the following degrees?

Biology     Biochemistry     Chemistry     Chemical Engineering     Biochemical Engineering     Other
2           3                 1             4                       2                            3

In order to address the question that Derek asked we have to first define what a chemist is versus a biologist, in a biotech/pharma setting. According to Derek, chemists are not protein purification people. What the above information shows is that chemists can be protein purification people. 
Have any of my chemistry colleagues out there noticed the difference in presentation detail between the two disciplines?
What if a chemist gets a job as a protein purification method developer? Will he/she present his/her work with less detail than their biologist predecessor?

A trivial detail for sure. It's just a bloggers question to provoke thought. I agree that chemists give less method details but they use too many big words. Ultimately however, details matter. We should worry more about what is not being said.
The easiest way to explain this idea is to contrast it, for example, with advertising. Last night I heard that Wesson oil doesn't soak through food. Well, that's true. It's not dishonest; but the thing I'm talking about is not just a matter of not being dishonest, it's a matter of scientific integrity, which is another level. The fact that should be added to that advertising statement is that no oils soak through food, if operated at a certain temperature. If operated at another temperature, they all will-- including Wesson oil. So it's the implication which has been conveyed, not the fact, which is true, and the difference is what we have to deal with.

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