Once upon a time, I was taught about a magical process called glycolysis. I learned how this amazing process can, through a series of reactions, generate energy for life, and all of the fascinating steps along the way. I then wrote an exam on the subject, and promptly erased it from my memory.
A year later, once again I was taught about glycolysis, but this time alongside her slightly backward fraternal twin sister gluconeogenesis. Again, fascinating. Again, quickly forgotten. (image from Lehninger Principles of Biochemistry)
Still another year later came the fantastic experience that was BIOC 4230, Metabolic Processes. And guess who was there. That’s right, old friend glycolysis, with a few more tricks to show off. Learned. Exammed. Vigorously scrubbed from recollection.
One might have guessed she would come back into my life once again, and she has. I thought it was over. I thought I could move on.
But alas, the problem with a pathway being one of the first biochemical processes worked on is not just that it was the first one studied, but that in being so, it paved the way for many new studies to follow, and in many cases, techniques that are used in labs even today. This is similarly the case with the pioneering gene-regulation system lac operon, and bacterial/phage genetics prototype lambda phage system (I’m sure there are lots of other examples), both of which have become intimately integrated into routine techniques of molecular biology.
Glycolysis, the workhorse of biochemistry and dread of all intro biochem students, seems to have a pretty bad reputation. What I’ve come to appreciate is that not only does it provide an understanding of a central energy pathway in life; not only does it provide multiple examples for the study of biochemistry conveniently in one place, but remains useful to new applications to this day. It’s relative age, while making it seem like stuffy, boring science, means that most if not all kinks have been ironed out; essentially everything about the enzymes of glycolysis is known, at least from a technical standpoint.
This flies in the face of the oh-so-common undergraduate lament (that I, of course, never uttered) of:
“Why should I have to learn this if I am never going to use it? It is old science that no one needs to know anymore. I want a degree without having to learn anything!”
…or some less cynically distorted variation thereof. Well, case in point, readers. One student has found himself actually needing to know his basic biochemistry for his biochemistry work. This calls for a celebration!
But it will need to wait for a while. The fact that glycolysis and its enzymes are so well established means that if I’ve spent two weeks getting a reaction to work that continues to sit in a cuvette like so:
then I can’t blame glycolysis for stupid pyruvate kinase stupidly not carrying out the stupid reaction to give me a stupid signal and get some stupid data to get my stupid project off the ground. Stupid.