FROM BIOCHEMISTRY AND MOLECULAR BIOLOGY TO THE LIFE SCIENCES
Biochemistry is a discipline in the natural sciences that is chiefly concerned with the chemical processes that take place in living organisms. Starting in the 1950s, a new stream evolved from traditional biochemistry, which, until then, mainly investigated bulk behaviour and macroscopic phenomena. This new stream focussed on the molecular basis of biological processes and since it put the biologically important molecules into the spotlight, the term molecular biology was coined. Importantly, molecular biology goes beyond the mere characterisation of molecules. It includes the study of interactions between biologically relevant molecules with the clear goal to reveal insights into functions and processes, such as replication, transcription and translation of genetic material.
Major technological and methodological advances made during the 1980s enabled the development and establishment of several specialised areas in the life sciences. These include structural biology (in particular the determination of three-dimensional structures), genetics (for example DNA sequencing) and proteomics. The refinement and improvement of methodologies, as well as the development of more efficient software (in line with more powerful computing resources), contributed substantially to specialist techniques becoming more accessible to researchers in neighbouring disciplines. What once had been the task of a highly specialised scientist who had been extensively trained in that particular area has consistently been transformed into a routinely applied methodology. These tendencies have pushed the feasibility of cross-disciplinary studies into an entirely new realm, and in many contemporary laboratories and research groups, methods originally at home in different basic disciplines are frequently used next to each other.
It is thus not surprising, that in the past 15–20 years, the term ‘life sciences’ has been used to describe the general nature of studies and research areas of a scientist working on studies related to living organisms.
THE EDUCATION OF LIFE SCIENTISTS
The life sciences embrace different fields of the natural and health sciences, all of which involve the study of living organisms, from microorganisms, plants and animals to human beings. Importantly, even satellite areas that are methodologically rooted outside natural or health sciences, for example bioethics, have become a part of the life sciences.