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MIT student blogger Melis A. '08

Biochemistry at its finest! by Melis A. '08

Yesterday, I attended my last 7.05 (Biochemistry) lecture taught by Prof. Michael Yaffe. Three professors co-teach the class and Yaffe taught for the first month of the semester. Indeed, it was a sad day.

For 1.5 hours three times a week, hundreds of students fill 10-250 (one of the giant lecture halls) to watch Yaffe cover crazy amounts of information in very little time. By the end of every lecture, you probably have four pages of very colorful notes and 9 boards filled with pretty picture of molecules and processes. The picture below is what the board looked like last Friday:

Using these boards, Prof. Yaffe explained the metabolic process that prevents you from bleeding to death after a measly paper cut! Basically, everyone knows that when a blood vessel is damaged, a bunch of platelets congregate to repair the cut by creating a clot. What you may not know is that this process is facilitated by the formation of a mesh made out of a protein called fibrin. This fibrin is formed by a long and relatively complicated process (called a coagulation cascade). The cascade begins with a vascular injury (a cut) that initiates an extrinsic pathway (aptly named because the source is outside of your body), which initiates an intrinsic pathway (named such since all of the necessary components already exist in your circulatory system). In the end, this complex process results in a reaction at the right place at the right time… unless you have something like hemophilia.

(Don’t continue reading this if you plan on taking 7.05 and don’t want the surprise to be ruined!) That’s all well and good, but the *craziness* began when Yaffe asked if anyone wanted to donate blood for a demonstration. I thought he was joking and nobody volunteered. So, he called up the head TA (teaching assistant) and the TA dutifully sat in a chair at the front of the classroom as Yaffe pulled out rubber gloves, a syringe, and some tubes. He drew a considerable amount of blood (2 vials full), while everyone watched in awe (except for the ones who had heard about it before, they seemed more amused from everyone else’s reaction). Then, he added a clotting factor to one tube and continued with class. An hour later, he showed that one tube had a huge clot in it, while the other was the same as before.

By the way, Yaffe is an MD/PhD who studies protein-protein interactions and signal transduction pathways by lipid and protein phosphorylation. His lab is in the Center for Cancer Research, where I did my first UROP (well, not in his lab in particular, just in the same building.) I’m sure he would draw your blood, too, if you asked politely.

18 responses to “Biochemistry at its finest!”

  1. Shen says:

    7.05 sounds like an incredible blast!

    You mentioned that there were _hundreds_ of students taking this class…how are the acoustics of the hall like and can you see the board pretty clearly if you sit in the middle or back?

  2. Faiqah says:

    Those diagrams on the board look so enticing, I would rather study it just for the fun!

  3. Bashir says:

    I read about some of the blood clotting mechanisms some time ago, and all these things I read up about biochemistry sound interesting. Is there Bio-medical engineering at MIT?

  4. Melis says:

    John: Fortunately, the professors wear a clip-on microphone (as you can kind of see in the picture) so there is absolutely no trouble hearing them. It helps to sit somewhere in the middle, but you can pretty much see whereever you sit.

    Bashir: Yes! There is biomedical engineering, it’s not a full major, but you can minor in it. There is also a new bioengineering major.

  5. Mridul says:

    It is good to see how our body systems work and how complex nature is!

    If this system is able to save us from bleeding to death then, I guess a similar system can save deadly leaks in oil pipes.

    See the Catastrophe that has happened in Alaska, a crude oil carrying pipe burst and created an oil slick in the ocean. More info :

    And, guys what is this field of study where we use biological systems as inspiration for engineering, called?

  6. Anonymous says:

    Melis, aren’t you majoring in M.Eng, or am I mistaken? If so, is this BioChem class just a GIR?

  7. Anonymous says:

    Mridul, I think it is called Biophysics, or biomedical engineering (BME).

  8. Melis says:

    I’m studying course 2A, which is where you combine Mechanical Engineering with a concentration of your choice. So, I’m doing Mech E with Premedicine and Biomedical Engineering. I’ll do a senior thesis on a project which combines everything =) So, Biochemistry is a premed requirement, which is why I am I taking it (along with the fact that it’s really useful and interesting…)

  9. Sarab says:

    Cool! Will say no more.

  10. Mridul says:

    Dear Anonymous,

    Biomedical Engineering is a discipline concerned with the development and manufacture of prostheses, medical devices, diagnostic devices, drugs and other therapies as well as the application of engineering principles to biological science problems.

    And, biophysics is application of various methods and principles of physical science to the study of biological problems.

    What I want to know is the opposite. What is the use of Biological principles in Engineering, called?

    And you know I dug up Google search and found the treasure.

    It is called “Biomimetic Engineering”

    More info:

    Thanks for the reply.

  11. Abhishek says:

    Got myself dazzled by those questionnaire; kind of interesting, just keep it up guys, since myself not very much interested in biology or biomechanics. Well, Melis could you give me address of any MIT blog posted by Aero-Astro student?

  12. Abhishek says:

    By the way I forgot to add, today is Einstein’s birthday. Happy B’day BOSS!!

  13. Anonymous says:

    Biomimetic Engineering, huh? Sounds pretty interesting. Reminds me of a Discovery Channel program about the future of aviation… details are sketchy, but I can remember seeing some researchers studying the flight and wing-strokes of a house-fly in ultraslow-motion, and using the observations to improve wing design to increase aircraft efficiency and speed. Learning from nature… biological knowledge applied to engineering problems, isn’t this what’s Biomimetic Engineering is about? Have I got you’re theme, Mridul?

    Well, abhishek I am fascinated by aero/astro too… The limits in this genre are both literally and figuratively sky-high, which is why its so fascinating!

  14. Dhrubo says:

    oops… may be i should come out of the veil of anonymity… I am Dhrubo, an intl. applicant (from Bangladesh).

  15. Mridul says:

    Hi Dhrubo,

    You are right!

    I saw that program too!

    This subject (biomimetics) looks interesting. Even Architects today take some hints from nature before constructing a building. I believe it’s a promising field with lots to explore.

    Dear Melis, does MIT have any UG courses on this subject?

  16. Melis says:

    Actually, I’m not sure if MIT has any classes on the subject, but there are biomaterials classes that Bryan ( might be able to tell you more about. However, my lab does some biomimetic research! There’s a big project going on that is trying to use novel materials and controls to create fins that mimic those of aquatic mammals. Also, a lot of biomimetic design is incorporated into robotics, especially when researchers fabricated small flying robots (they studied insects as a model) to use in search and rescue operations.

  17. Abhishek says:

    Aww!! Lovely Biology Guys!! For Crissake somebody tell me??

  18. Mridul says:

    Thanks, Melis,

    Of-course MIT is one of the pioneers in this field.

    In that Discovery channel program, they mention MIT many a times.

    Nature is very complex and it is the best.

    Mother Nature rears us and I feel it is our responsibility to take care of her, like our own mom.

    But, she’s in trouble now, because of us, and we are in trouble too, ’cause whe she gets angry…

    you know what happens!


    I want to be a part of this {biomimetics} research and use it to save earth.

    But, before that I have to wait for decision, that is Tommorow! eeks…