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Molecular biology is a scientific approach that marries biochemistry and genetics, seeking to understand the activity of the cell, particularly the biosynthesis of the following organisms:
At its heart, molecular biology studies the processes of replication, transcription, translation, and cell functions. Since the turn of the 21st century, one of the leading areas of research within molecular biology has been molecular genetics.
What is Molecular Biology?
Scientist Warren Weaver coined the term "molecular biology" in 1938, believing that the invention of new technologies such as X-ray crystallography was about to revolutionize the entire field of biology. This was the beginning of the attempt to understand life at its most fundamental level. Weaver encouraged scientists to explore the intersection of biology, chemistry and physics, but it was not until 1940 that George Beadle and Edward Tatum understood the relationship between genes and proteins.
It was during the 1950s that scientists discovered the structure of DNA. One group consisted of Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin, while another consisted of James Watson and Francis Crick. Linus Pauling was also instrumental in understanding the structure of DNA. Today, scientists work in such areas as molecular cloning, polymerase chain reactions, DNA microarrays, and gene therapy. Molecular medicine applies the techniques of molecular biology to the treatment of disease.
The Way Molecular Biologists Approach their Research
The epistemological consequences of the way in which molecular biologists approach their work are vast. The "normal science" of molecular biology churns out discoveries and new modes of praxis in, inter alia, agriculture, zoology, and medicine. But the point of view engendered by molecular biology, and what that point of view says about how we know the world, may be even more important than the technical achievements of the discipline. A view of the world that looks upon physical facts-the linear sequence of nucleotides in the DNA molecule-in terms of the information content of those facts yields something not seen before in the world. Crick characterized his work as a molecular biologist as being concerned with three types of "flows" in the synthesis of proteins at the behest of molecules of DNA:
- Flow of information
- Flow of matter
- Flow of energy
With the advent of molecular biology there was created a Kuhnian paradigm (As espoused by the scientist Thomas Kuhn). Two qualities are necessary for a scientific achievement to qualify as a paradigm. The first is that the achievement be "sufficiently unprecedented to attract an enduring group of adherents away from competing modes of scientific activity. Second, it must be "sufficiently open-ended to leave all sorts of problems for the redefined group of practitioners to resolve". Given the subsequent history of biological science after the elucidation of the molecular basis of heredity, it is obviously the case that a paradigm shift did indeed occur.Changes in a paradigm result in changes in the class of facts that are deemed worthy of attention and that has been the case with molecular biology. We can see this in the current interest respecting the "gay gene" and in how homosexuality is now regarded by at least some researchers. Consider Freud's view of homosexuality as an "inversion," the nature of which, "is explained neither by the assumption that it is congenital nor that it is acquired". This is the view of someone who is examining a very different class of facts than is the contemporary molecular biologist who, having at hand an explanation of the mechanism by which traits of all kinds are passed down through the generations, is free to postulate that homosexuality is a function of genotype and to look at the matter in terms of information encoded in a given sequence of nucleotides.