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Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

BMB & Public Health

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

—Quote widely attributed to Benjamin Franklin

Members of this Department often get asked: Why study biochemistry and molecular biology in a public health setting? What does it mean? Yet when he founded the then named School of Hygiene and Public Health in 1916, William Henry Welch understood the need for a “biochemistry-oriented” basic science department and soon recruited Elmer V. McCollum to chair and anchor the Department of Chemical Hygiene.

Fast forwarding to our time, the Bloomberg School’s mission statement compellingly says that “The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health is dedicated to the education of a diverse group of research scientists and public health professionals, a process inseparably linked to the discovery and application of new knowledge, and through these activities, to the improvement of health and prevention of disease and disability around the world.”

In our view, the goals and benefits of a biochemistry and molecular biology-oriented approach to public health are to further our understanding of the basic mechanisms responsible for the achievement, maintenance, and loss of homeostasis (i.e., normalcy) given an individual’s genetic inheritance, his/her age, and his/her exposure to the outside world (as determined by the environment that he/she lives in, and the behavior-related choices that he/she makes). Importantly homeostasis, as defined here (1), includes the capacity for adaptation, which is typically formidable in biological systems. Exceeding this capacity often represents the first steps toward pathogenesis and overt disease. The same principles apply, of course, to populations. This defines, to a large extent, what this department is all about.

Here are some relevant examples of biology that is relevant to our mission:

Understanding such phenomena and many others defines who we are, and what we do, as biochemists, cellular and molecular biologists operating in a public health setting. Join us!

(1)Merriam-Webster defines homeostasis as "the maintenance of relatively stable internal physiological conditions in higher animals under fluctuating environmental conditions."