Websites of note


  • Graham R. Parslow

    Corresponding author
    1. Russel Grimwade School of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, The University of Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia
    • Russel Grimwade School of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, The University of Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia
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Hal White is a feature editor for this journal (BAMBED), specializing in problem-based learning (PBL).11 He is also a professor of biochemistry at the University of Delaware and director of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Undergraduate Biological Sciences Education Program. Professor White is acknowledged as a leader in PBL implementation, and this site describes the efforts of a committed team at Delaware. Since 1992, 250 members of the Delaware faculty have been trained in PBL to currently tutor 3,000 undergraduate students involved in PBL projects. This is a scale of application that is likely to be unique, so Delaware is an obvious case study to review if you want to learn more of the PBL approach. You might start by choosing Sample PBL Problems, and this will present a number of discipline-specific examples including Biochemistry. The case titled Sick Kids with an Unusual Organic Aciduria is a straightforward one for looking at classical inherited disorders. There are numerous links to PBL literature and other resources from this website. Of course you should also read Professor White's contributions to this journal to extend your familiarity with PBL.


This free-access site is provided with the backing of Wiley Publishers and claims to be the definitive spectroscopy resource on the Internet. It is certainly comprehensive and covers mass spectrometry (incorporating base peak), X-ray spectrometry, NMR (incorporating an NMR knowledge base), infrared, atomic spectroscopy, Raman spectroscopy, ultraviolet, MRI, and proteomics. A good start is to choose the Education section that leads to an impressive list of articles covering many spectroscopic techniques. At the bottom of the list are a couple of articles on proteomics that provide all of the information that an undergraduate is likely to need to comprehend the field. A few more diagrams in the educational articles would enhance the readability, but the information is satisfactorily accessible. For laboratory users there are discussion groups and papers listed within each of the techniques.


The first impression of this site is highly reassuring with a simple molecular animation, created using CHIME, and a clear menu of topics. You can work through beginning theory, types of nuclei, instrumentation, chemical shift, spin-spin splitting, 13C shift table, and 1H shift table. The level is introductory and easy to follow with simple diagrams.


If you cannot find a suitable diagram of a pathway in a textbook, then try this site. The BioCarta website aims to keep up to date with advances in metabolic and other gene functions, notably control, by making a shared resource. The approach is to provide tools for contributors to create pathways and diagrams that then become part of the site, subject to review before acceptance. BioCarta provide templates offering a choice of molecular icons and cellular structures to keep a consistent presentation style. Research students should find this helpful to create illustrations for papers and talks, regardless of submitting back to BioCarta. To get a feeling for the vast scope of the existing pathways try selecting Browse all pathways. If you start with glycolysis you will see the familiar chemistry with simple clear structures. The model can incorporate automatic hyperlinks, so watch for the cursor to change to a hand as you hover over the enzymes in the pathway. The hand symbol activates hyperlinks to databases and literature references for the chosen object. You may be overwhelmed by the volume of information available in the links. The entry on glycolysis is attributed to Glenn Croston who has additionally written an explanatory commentary on the history and function of the pathway (an excellent teaching aid). The same author also contributed an entry on feeder pathways to glycolysis that expands the metabolic view to a range of cellular fuel molecules. Most other conventional pathways are represented and easy to locate. To go beyond the textbooks browse through apoptosis, adhesion, cell cycle activation, cell signaling, and more topics in signal transduction. Many people have labored mightily here to bring a plethora of control factors together in simple diagrams linking signals to actions. If this site interests you then you are also likely to be interested in the metabolic minimaps designed by Donald Nicholson and described by Richard Hanson in this journal (BAMBED) Volume 30(4),221 (2002).


InforMax provides public and proprietary databases for a fee, although some limited tutorial material is available without charge. Although the BioCarta site reviewed above can provide a lot of teaching material for free, the scope is dependent on the goodwill of contributors. InforMax is a company that has evolved since 1993 to provide analytic tools to over 32,000 scientists with a comprehensive portfolio of informatics software for genome analysis and data mining. The InforMax products look highly attractive for teaching, but prices are variable for selected services and only available on application.


Teachers of biochemistry and molecular biology do not need to join the ranks of the unemployed just yet. This formidable alliance of universities is offering an impressive range of courses but not in the hard sciences. I am tempted to take the course titled Why smart people do stupid things by Robert J. Sternberg, IBM Professor of Psychology and Education at Yale. The tuition will cost $295, and the course provides insights into breathtaking acts of stupidity committed by people who are smart or even brilliant. The list of humanities, economic, and cultural topics is surprisingly fulsome and backed by institutions and authors of the highest repute. As you would expect the presentation of the choices is highly professional and provides a glimpse of the virtual courses that may come to dominate learning in the new millennium.


Flesh and bones is mounted by Elsevier Health Sciences, the world's largest medical publisher. The textbooks supported here include Gray's Anatomy, Kumar and Clark's Clinical Medicine, McMinn's Color Atlas of Human Anatomy, Roitt's Immunology, and Baynes Medical Biochemistry. The Baynes text, nominally published by Mosby, is one that I have on my shelf, and I admire it for the way it simplifies biochemistry for appreciation by medical students. Selecting the Medical Biochemistry textbook leads to a dedicated page providing a general description, sales information, and support material for students and teachers. Every diagram in the book is available for download. The menu of chapters leads to thumbnail diagrams of each figure that can be independently selected. Expanding a figure leads to a high definition version with a watermark that overlays the figure and destroys it for class use. This is one of the most pointless gestures I have seen from a serious publisher since the images can be put in a virtual shopping trolley and downloaded later for free. Perhaps this makes server access more efficient, but I am not impressed by this scheme. Students who register get to test themselves on multiple choice questions and to play games and win prizes by entering competitions. The choice of Clinical Examples leads to pull-outs from the Medical Biochemistry textbook dealing with case studies of Parkinson's disease, osteoporosis, microsatellite repeats as markers for inheritance, methanol poisoning, Guillain-Barré syndrome, botulism, insecticide poisoning, an unusual reaction to cheese, cystic fibrosis, and more.


DNA analysis in North America has provided evidence for many convictions of poachers. Trent University, Ontario, Canada provides a service that would interest many students. Since 1991 the laboratory has processed over 750 forensic cases involving moose, white-tailed deer, black bear, wild turkey, walleye, and rainbow trout. DNA profiling is done from blood, hair, bone, tissue, antler, and fish scales. DNA fingerprinting establishes individual identification and parentage analysis, species identification, and breed categories. The Wildlife Forensic DNA Laboratory is dedicated to the benefit of wildlife management and is a non-profit organization. There is a limited bibliography of publications, and you can contact the staff directly if you want more information.


  1. 1

    The abbreviation used is: PBL, problem-based learning.