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What is Biochemistry?

Biochemistry is the application of chemistry to living organisms. Biochemistry is the single most important science for understanding how living things are made and how they work.

What is Biochemistry?

If you're interested in learning more about the study of biochemistry, then this article is for you! This blog post will provide you with an overview of what biochemistry is and will highlight some of the various fields that fall under it. We'll also address some misconceptions about biochemistry and why it's important to know more than just basics. We hope this helps give you a better idea of what exactly is meant by "biochemist." 

Biochemistry is the study of how living things work.

It includes the study of cellular and molecular structure, energy (ATP), biosynthesis, catalysis, reaction mechanisms and regulation, transport, and metabolism. Biochemistry also looks at how cellular components interact with one another to carry out the tasks that living systems need to perform. Biochemistry can be studied by people in many different fields including medicine (physicians), education (biology teachers), research (biologists), and public health (biochemists). In the field of biochemistry, biochemists are generally split into different subspecialties to study these topics.


Biochemists study the chemistry that happens in living systems (cells and organisms). The majority of humans will live for over 80 years, so it is important that we understand how living things work.

The chemistry of life includes the following:

1. Metabolic pathways: The areas of metabolism that involve substrates being converted into products. They include glycolysis, gluconeogenesis, pentose phosphate synthesis (PPBS), citric acid cycle and others. Metabolism can be broadly defined as any chemical reactions taking place in cells during a cell's lifetime.

2. The structures of molecules: The mechanisms of structural changes that occur during cell metabolism. For example, the metabolic breakdown of glucose to form pyruvate and alanine.

3. Regulation: How cells exert control over their activity to achieve their balance and homeostasis. Active transport, enzyme regulation, signal transduction, ion channels (gating) can be classified as biochemical mechanisms in cells that allow cells to respond to stimuli but also maintain normal function during normal conditions.

4. Biosynthesis: Formation of new molecules from simpler ones which are essential to life processes when they exist in living systems (in contrast with catabolism).

5. Cell structure: The structural organization of organisms with special emphasis on the macroscopic components. This includes cell membranes, nucleic acids and proteins, cytoskeleton, cell organelles and cell wall.

What is Biochemistry?

Collections of cells that work together for a common purpose form an organism (humans for example). These organisms are also made up of smaller units called cells. Cells are the smallest living unit that can carry out all life processes independently without assistance from other cells (with the exception of viruses which lack cellular life).

The smallest unit of a living cell is called the functional unit (or functional compartment). Functionally, it performs a specific task that is integral to life processes. These functional units, like the mitochondria and the nucleus, are enclosed by a lipid bilayer with protein embedded in it. The membrane itself has various structures that are integral to the cell's function. These membrane structures exist in different types of cells, but they all serve a specific purpose. For example, in animal cells there are flagella (tail like structures), cilia (hair like structure), and microvilli (finger like structures). These membrane structures serve as transport systems for substances in and out of the cell. However, they also have other functions depending on what type of cell they are found in. For example, cilia can be used for locomotion or for moving liquid around within an organism.

The cytoplasm is a fluid part of the cell that is usually located in the center. It contains all of the cell's organelles and organelles are where most reactions occur. The membranes that surround organelles (e.g., mitochondria, endoplasmic reticulum) are needed for the organelle to function correctly and for them to be able to multiply inside the cell. Organelles also need to be protected by proteins in order to keep them stable enough for long periods of time in the body.

The mitochondrion is a small tubular structure found outside of the cytoplasm, inside the matrix of eukaryotic cells. Mitochondria are primarily involved in the process of cellular respiration which is the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats and proteins to produce ATP. The endoplasmic reticulum (or ER) is a network of membranes in the cytoplasm that transports substances within a cell.

The nucleus encloses most of a cell's genetic material, including DNA and RNA. The nucleus can be divided into several regions based on its function or shape. 

The appendix is found attached to the tip of the large intestine. It contains lymphatic tissue that helps protect from damaging effects from pathogenic organisms in the intestines.

The thyroid gland is located in the neck and helps regulate the body's metabolic rate and many other processes.

The pituitary gland is found at the base of the brain and it produces hormones that are sent throughout the body. The pineal gland is a pea sized endocrine gland that secretes a hormone called melatonin, which helps regulate sleep. 

Biochemists make things. They create new drugs to fight cancer, they make enzymes to help with food processing, they make antibodies to understand immune reactions; new tests to detect toxic gases; they design machines that can detect biological substances more quickly or more accurately than current methods; they build devices to track disease outbreaks in real-time. 

Biochemists often work in close collaboration with biologists, physicists, chemists, and computer scientists. This is referred to as interdisciplinary research.


Biochemists work in many places, including:

1. Academic institutions (schools and departments)

2. Commercial facilities and companies

3. Biotechnology companies

4. Government laboratories and research centers


The majority of biochemists work in academic institutions, especially in schools of chemistry, or departments of biology. Many other biochemists work as staff members in universities or government labs, or at private research facilities. A minority of biochemists are employed by pharmaceutical companies, biotechnology firms and chemicals companies. The majority of private sector employment is concentrated in the United States; approximately 135,000 Americans with biochemistry degrees hold positions in that industry. In the pharmaceutical industry employment is equally split between the United States and Japan (approximately 46,000 employees each). The demand for biochemists is expected to strengthen in the future, with an expected growth rate of twenty percent through 2018.


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 95% of biochemistry graduates are employed within six months of receiving their degree. The average starting salary for a biochemist is $37,000; the national average wage in 2011 was $74,200 per year. In 2010, typical starting salaries ranged from $57,000 in the Southeast region (Alabama, Florida and Georgia) to $41,000 in Alaska - these averages are considerably lower than figures reported by other sources). Biochemists have low unemployment rates hovering around 2%, which remain below the current national average of 7%.


65% of biochemists in the United States work in research and development, primarily as pharmaceutical industry employees (21%); government agency employees (16%), and academia (13%). The remainder has positions in other fields such as teaching and administration.


Biochemistry schools are available at Texas A&M University, University of Texas at Austin, Louisiana State University Shreveport, University of Illinois at Chicago, Arizona State University Tempe, Purdue University West Lafayette and numerous others. There is a new Department of Biology and Biochemistry at North Carolina State University. 

Information for all educational programs may be found here:

Biochemists, while they are often working on complicated problems that have many answers, are also significant contributors to the progress of society by developing new and improved processes that improve the quality of life. 

Biofuels, as most energy sources today, use a variety of raw materials to produce energy and are derived from plants. Despite having a high fuel efficiency in comparison to traditional fossil fuels such as coal or natural gas, biofuels can be highly controversial due to concerns about carbon dioxide emissions. Biofuels have currently been used commercially in vehicles powered by compressed natural gas (CNG), ethanol and biodiesel. In 2011, CNG accounted for 10% of all U.S.-produced transportation fuel; biodiesel accounted for 0.4% and ethanol 1.9%. 

Biochemists also play a key role in the development of pharmaceuticals, which are used to treat/control everything from diabetes and high cholesterol to heart disease, cancer and infections. Seeing as drugs are manufactured from chemicals it makes sense that biochemists would hold a significant position in the pharmaceutical industry. In 2010, research and development in the pharmaceutical industry employed approximately 300,000 people (with an additional 200,000 involved in production). 

Biochemistry is a vital part of many industries including:

Biochemists have always been involved in the advancement of algorithms and techniques. Biochemists are responsible for the discovery, synthesis, and application of molecular and computational techniques to understand experimental results. In addition to their work relating to microorganisms, DNA, and proteins they also tackle problems related to biological membranes, high performance computing (HPC), genomics and proteomics. 

Generic methods include:

Fields of research focus on the analysis of complex molecules including:

The bioinformatics community is concerned with the processing and analysis of large quantities of data obtained via proteomics, genomics or bioinformatics. This data usually consists of DNA, RNA, and protein sequences, amino acid or nucleotide sequences, and three dimensional structures. The role of bioinformatics is to develop methods to store, retrieve and analyse these data in order to generate hypotheses for experiments. 

Some research fields include:

Some applications of biochemistry include:

1. Public Health

2. Agriculture

3. Food

4. Nutrition

Biochemists have many transferable skills:

1. Education: Students read biochemistry textbooks, which provide a foundation for the future

2. Geography: In this discipline, students learn about local geography and particular regions

3. Chemistry: Chemists need to know what atoms are, what they bond with and how they react with each other

Some of the greatest accomplishments in human history have been attributed to the work of biochemists. At times, it is difficult to determine exactly who is responsible for these accomplishments because many things in modern society are multi-disciplinary. Some of these accomplishments include the development of genomics and proteomics - biochemistry has been at the forefront of these fields since their inception.


1. Genomics: This field is the study of genetics and different ways in which DNA is organized

2. Proteomics: This field studies the proteins that are made in the body and their properties. Many scientists think that biochemistry was one of the first fields to begin trying to examine proteins in detail

3. Environmental Chemistry: The environmental chemistry community specializes in studying air, land, water, and geology issues

4. Immunology: This field focuses on how an organism's immune system works

5. Molecular Biology: This field is responsible for understanding how genetic information is used to form proteins by a cell.


Some common applications of biochemistry include:

1. Food Science and Technology 

2. Genetic Engineering 

3. Biotechnology 

4. Pharmaceuticals


The biochemistry laboratory is the culmination of several fundamental discoveries made throughout human history. People did not exist (in their present form) without biochemistry and neither did most life. Thus, there was a need for humans to look at the structure of life and how it relates to them in order to continue surviving.


The field of biochemistry as we know it today only began developing around 1900 or so, with the discovery that organic compounds could be broken down into simpler compounds plus the synthesis of complex organic molecules. This discovery is attributed to the identification of carbohydrates, lipids, proteins and nucleic acids.


Molecules are chemical compounds formed by two or more atoms. They are usually too small to be seen with the naked eye but can have a huge effect on the world around us. One important way molecules affect the world is through their interaction with enzymes. Enzymes are catalysts that regulate chemical reactions in our bodies. Enzymes speed up chemical reactions and make them happen at just the right time and place to keep life going on Earth as it does today. Biochemistry deals with how these molecules interact with each other in order to keep things running smoothly in different organisms.


In this field, researchers are trying to understand the large amount of data that is being produced from genome sequencing, proteomics and metabolomics experiments. Due to the large amounts of data, it is necessary for both bioinformatics and biochemistry scientists to become experts in the handling of this information.


1. Biochemistry is a leading life sciences discipline: Life science research is one of the most highly cited disciplines in all three major science citation indices (Thomson Reuters', Web of Science and Scopus) as well as in Google Scholar. According to American biochemists, life sciences research has always been more highly cited than any other subject area (excepting physics).

2. Examination of the top 1% most cited papers in the life sciences confirms that more than 70% of these papers involve biochemistry. Approximately 18% of all life science funding is allocated to biochemists, according to data from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH).

3. Biochemistry also publishes a large number of highly cited papers in influential journals: Of the top 10 most highly cited life sciences journals (as defined by Thomson Reuters' Journal Citation Reports) over the past five years, 6 are heavily represented by articles involving biochemistry and related disciplines. In fact, only two journals on this list do not publish work that deals heavily with biochemistry (Journal of Biology and Human Reproduction).

4. Often collaborations between life science disciplines such as biochemistry, chemistry and biology are critical to producing ground-breaking research.

5. In addition to producing highly cited and influential papers, life sciences researchers are also extremely adept at publishing in the 'top' journals in the field: Among the top 50% most cited papers in the life sciences, more than half of these papers were published in one of the top 5% most cited journals (as defined by Journal Citation Reports).

6. Biochemistry, along with genetics and molecular biology, are the two most popular fields of study for Doctoral students entering life sciences PhD programs (based on data from the US NIH).

7. Many universities have biochemistry graduate programs, as well as undergraduate programs in biochemical sciences.

For more information: Scientific American article - Biochemistry: The laboratory of life (September 28, 2009)


Biochemists also play an important role in the human genome project. They are studying and finding ways to use genetic material to help humans become healthier. For example, many companies like Oxford Nanopore Technology Ltd, Helix BioMedix Inc. and others are creating new gene therapies and new ways to treat diseases.


1. Understanding human genetics: Biochemistry is a fundamental research field in human genetics which enables us to understand the DNA code responsible for heredity and the formation of complex structures within organisms such as proteins and chromosomes.

2. Research: Research in biochemistry has led to important discoveries in molecular biology, molecular chemistry, molecular genetics, molecular medicine, biotechnology and proteomics.

3. Human colour vision: Research by a Western Australian multi-disciplinary team led by Professor Nick Crick brings us one step closer to understanding why man has colour vision (a trait that is not shared by other primate species).

4. Biochemistry: The field of biochemistry was established on the basis of research on the compounds that make up living tissue. Of the 20,000 compounds that have been identified in living organisms, approximately 5,000 are proteins and 15,000 are non-protein organic compounds (e.g., fats and carbohydrates).

5. Biochemical research is critical to the understanding of diseases such as cancer and diabetes: A large amount of research has investigated how cancers arise within tissues (e.g., tumor viruses) in order to provide new ways to treat this disease.


6. Understanding the processes that underlie ageing: Biochemistry research contributes to our understanding of how cells function and how they make new protein.

7. Recent research in biochemistry has had huge successes in the production of anti-inflammatory chemicals.


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