Basic And Applied Research
A molecular biologist might investigate the genetic basis of a disease, analyzing the gene or genes suspected of causing the disease at the molecular level by using the biochemical technique of DNA sequencing. Genes code for proteins; that is, a particular gene contains the molecular information for producing one particular protein. A gene is expressed through the process of transcription. The DNA of the gene is transcribed by a protein known as RNA polymerase. Some genes are expressed frequently, others rarely or only during special times in development. Thus, a molecular biologist might also seek to understand the regulation of gene expression by studying how and when a gene's RNA message (mRNA) appears.
The mRNA resulting from gene expression is the blueprint for the protein. Ribosomes, the cell's protein synthesis factories, translate the mRNA (read the message) and assemble the protein. After translation, a protein may be modified by covalent attachment of carbohydrates and lipids to particular amino acids. A molecular biologist might seek to determine the three-dimensional structure of a modified protein using techniques like X-ray diffraction and nuclear magnetic resonance.
In addition to carrying out basic research, molecular biologists may also work in applied research. Using recombinant DNA technology, for example, molecular biologists have created economical vaccines against deadly diseases. The molecular biologist often works at the frontier or cutting edge of a discipline. The rewards of such work include the thrill of intellectual discovery and the opportunity to conduct independent research. Also, the efforts of molecular biologists can bring great benefits to society.