The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has announced that the 2014 Nobel Prize for Chemistry goes to Eric Betzig, Stefan W. Hell and William E. Moerner “for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy”. A couple of considerations have to be made on this. In the last decade, out of 11 Nobel Prizes for Chemistry assigned, 6 has been awarded to scientists that made biologically- relevant contributions. Their work ranges from the discover and optimization of the Green Fluorescent Protein, the functioning of ribosomes, up to the principles of eukaryotic transcription and the discover of ubiquitine. By inventing new methods and unravelling fundamental Biology processes, chemists out there are giving an impressive and growing contribution to Life Sciences.
Differently from Biology, Chemistry is very sharply parted into sub- disciplines. Organic, Physical, Analytical, Inorganic, Pharmaceutical and Theoretical Chemistry are the most common definitions you’ll get to find in faculties. The terms Biological Chemistry and Biochemistry are used to define that branch of Chemistry aimed at the study of chemical processes within and relating to living organisms. Given the several contributions coming from the other branches of Chemistry, we should reconsider the outlines of Biochemistry, that is not just Organic Chemistry applied to biology as classically stated. Physical chemistry is providing very interesting methodological solutions for biotechnology, such as the development of nanotechnology and its application to drug delivery and gene silencing. As detecting methods improvement is domain of analytical chemistry, Theoretical Chemistry is fundamental for Structural Biology and Protein Bioinformatics, whereas also Physical Chemistry is deeply contributing with the application of kinetics and thermodynamics. Anyways, the most of the work is still made by Organic Chemistry, in matter of analysis of macromolecules and metabolism. Thus, there is a growing intake of chemical knowledge in Life Sciences.
Biology already enjoyed the immigration from other disciplines. We have genetics thanks to Mendel, that was a statistician, and anyone knows the work of Lotka and Volterra in modeling the prey- predator dynamics. Right after the IIWW, many physicists moved to biology, causing the birth of Molecular Biology, and I don’t really need to mention the overcome of computer scientists during the 90s. Chemists always had a role in biology, but the recent avalanche of biologically- relevant projects in chemical research, and the new horizons opened by nanotechnologies and structural biology, are relevant enough to recognize the fourth “migratory event” in biological sciences, and we need to get use to see even more chemists in our labs.
If the future is personalized medicine, biofuels, protein dynamics and structural genomics, we have to expect that chemistry will grow in relevance for life sciences.