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Science lecture series kicks off

Associate professor shows that chemical transformation and molecules are the key to life.
Sunday, September 12, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:28 p.m. CDT, Monday, June 30, 2008

It takes 48 hours for a fertilized tree frog egg to turn into a tadpole. What in the egg allows it to accomplish such a complicated task?

This was the question associate biochemistry professor Bruce McClure posed to his audience as he inaugurated the Saturday Morning Science series with his lecture titled, “Why Are The Molecules Of Life So Big?”

Attendees had different reasons for being there, but McClure kept his audience engaged.

Although Hickman High School biology teacher Pam Close said she came to get a good framework to teach these topics in her own classes, 15-year-old Nick Seyer of West Junior High came to the lecture because of a few extra credits his biology teacher is giving students for attending the lecture and writing a summary of it. He had expected the lecture to be boring.

“I looked at my watch and half an hour had gone past without me realizing it,” he said. “I will come back next week, but not just for the credits.”

McClure’s talk, which was held at MU’s Life Sciences Center, drew about 80 people who ranged from middle and high school students to elementary school teachers to MU faculty members.

McClure delved into the complicated functions living things perform, looking at them from a chemical perspective. He opened his lecture with a time-lapse movie of a developing tree frog egg.

“I don’t think you can look at that and not be excited by that and wonder ‘what’s in there that allows it to do that?’” McClure said.

McClure also used other props to compare the simplicity of basic building-block molecules, such as hydrogen and oxygen to the complexity of biological molecules, such as DNA.

Chemical transformation, he said, is the fundamental basis of life. The transformation from grape juice to wine, for example, happens because of chemical transformation, he said. These transformations are performed with the help of biological molecules, which are larger than the basic building-blocks.

“You kind of start to get the impression that some of these molecules we have to study in order to understand what living things do are primarily on the big side,” McClure said.

One of the examples McClure used to help his audience visualize the relative sizes of biological molecules was a 150-meter-long thread representing the coiled DNA molecule of a hypothetical 6-inch-long bacterium.

McClure left his audience with a perception of how to connect everyday living things to the idea of molecules and the complicated functions they perform. McClure will speak again next week, more specifically about certain biological molecules, such as DNA and certain proteins.


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