What Is The Study Of Biochemistry?

The study of biochemistry is related to both the physical and biological sciences. Specifically, it’s focused on organic chemicals produced and processed by living organisms, such as enzymes and hormones. Unlike organic chemistry, which studies organic chemicals that aren’t biologically integrated with living organisms, biochemistry is mainly concerned with how biochemicals and organic chemicals work within the organism to facilitate metabolic processes, growth, and reproduction. 

What’s The Difference Between Biochemistry And Biochemical Engineering?

The main difference between biochemistry and biochemical engineering is that the former is concerned with understanding the different biological processes in the body, while the latter is concerned with synthesising drugs and developing methods that will improve these processes. 

The Study Of Biochemistry

The study of biochemistry focuses on the inner workings of biological organisms at the molecular level. For example, the synthesis and folding of protein structures are topics that are well within the province of biochemistry. Biochemistry describes these processes in terms of molecular bonds and genetic expressions.

This field of chemistry also looks at the chemical reactions that take place inside cells and their organelles, such as the mitochondria. Beyond this, there are a few reasons why biochemistry is an important field:

  • Understanding biochemicals is crucial in understanding how complex multicellular organisms, like humans, function
  • Its gathered data on molecular locking mechanisms and receptors is crucial in understanding virological infection and immunity
  • Its studies into biochemical neurotransmitters also help to treat brain-related illnesses, such as drug addiction and Parkinson’s disease
Pipette over test tube dropping sample chemical into sample plant
Biochemistry studies the inner workings of biological organisms

Biochemical Engineering

While the study of biochemistry focuses on understanding all these biological processes, biochemical engineering focuses on improving them. The link between these two fields is that biochemical engineering is the technological and practical application of biochemistry. 

The main focus of biochemical engineering is synthesising drugs that will help treat diseases or improve overall health. In addition to this:

  • Biochemical engineering involves the synthesis and processing of other biologically-based materials, like biofuels
  • This field is also concerned with developing methods and machines for the synthesis and processing of various types of biochemicals
  • It also plays a crucial role in pharmaceuticals, food processing, and water treatment industries, since it’s able to utilise biochemistry to refine their methods 

Aside from its industrial applications, biochemical engineering is also crucial in solving crimes. Many modern methods of forensic investigations, such as genetic profiling, are the product of biochemistry research and biochemical engineering.

Scientist holding tube and working with laptop in genetics lab
Biochemical engineering is the technological and practical application of biochemistry

What Is Biochemistry Used For?

Biochemistry has a wide range of applications, from medicine, food processing and nutrition to agriculture and forensics. In fact, many of the products we use everyday, like medicines, dietary supplements, and even food and beverages, wouldn’t be possible without the discoveries made in biochemistry. 

  1. Medical applications

From diagnostic tools and methods like blood analysis, to treatment modalities such as gene therapy, biochemistry plays an important role in medical applications. For example, identifying someone’s blood type requires reagents that react to specific proteins in the blood, like Anti-D (PK 1) or Anti-D (PK 2), which are used to determine the Rh(D) type, i.e. whether your blood type is negative or positive. Developing these types of reagents wouldn’t be possible without the advancements made by biochemistry.

Additionally, pharmaceutical products, whether over-the-counter medicines or prescription drugs, are crucial in treating different types of illnesses. Whether it’s a simple allergy or serious infection, an understanding of biochemistry is instrumental in developing medicines that can cure or treat these illnesses.

  1. Agricultural and horticultural applications

Our knowledge of plant physiology and function is also predominantly sourced from biochemistry. This is because it aids in the understanding of complex processes like photosynthesis and plant respiration, and how they work, from how many ATPs are produced to how many NADPHs are used. The analysis of the genetic makeup of plants, as well as their genetic diseases, is also made possible by methods and techniques used in biochemistry.

Biochemical plant knowledge is crucial when it comes to breeding or genetically engineering them, as it gives insight into how to make plants resilient against diseases and produce more yield. The biochemistry of plants is also important in designing pesticides and herbicides that will protect agricultural varieties of grains, vegetables, and even fruit-bearing trees against insects and encroaching weeds.

  1. Food production applications

The number one challenge in food production is extending the shelf life of consumable goods. While refrigerating your food items helps to solve this, this isn’t the only method at play here. In fact, fresh meat will start to rot within just a few minutes if it’s exposed to air, so an understanding of biochemical changes in different foods, as well as their chemical compositions, is critical in keeping them preserved for longer. 

Long before the scientific discipline of biochemistry was invented, many biochemical processes were already being applied to preserve food when refrigeration wasn’t an option. These biochemical processes include things like smoking, canning, salting, and even desiccating food, which all help to prevent microbial growth. Other than to help extend the shelf life of foods, biochemistry is also used in the food processing industry to inform the development of nutritious foods. 

  1.  Environmental protection

Many synthetic chemicals are produced as waste by industries, and they can have extremely destructive effects on the environment. In fact, some chemicals, like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), are carcinogens and are capable of destroying the ozone layer.

Some of the chemical poisons in the environment can also pose long-term health hazards to humans. Luckily, biochemistry can help trace various types of pollution, as well as their sources. It can also help reduce pollutants or make organisms more resilient.

Plants with biochemistry structure on green background
One of the uses of biochemistry is in the understanding of complex processes in nature, like photosynthesis or the genetic make up of plants

What Is A Biochemistry Degree?

A biochemistry degree is part of the STEM curriculum offered by universities. Earning this level of education can lead to careers in medicine, research, pharmaceuticals, and large industries. The top universities offering biochemistry degrees in the UK are:

  • University of Cambridge
  • University of Oxford
  • University College of London
  • Imperial College of London
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of Manchester
  • King’s College London

What Does A Biochemistry Course Involve?

The study of biochemistry degrees requires extensive knowledge in both chemistry and biology, with a focus on both theoretical and practical aspects. Other relevant subjects that are studied on biochemistry courses are physics, organic chemistry, calculus, statistics, and computer science.

Computer science and mathematics are particularly important when it comes to rendering three-dimensional models of biochemical molecules, which help demonstrate how they react. Proteins, for instance, are too complex to be understood without the aid of computer models.

Scientific researcher holding a folder of chemical experiment research
The study of biochemistry can lead to careers in medicine, research, and pharmaceuticals

What Is Analytical Biochemistry?

Analytical biochemistry is an integral sub-sector of biochemistry that deals with investigating and quantifying the chemical composition of substances or compounds. While biochemistry is inherently inquisitive, the focus of analytical biochemistry as a distinct discipline is the chemical identification, quantification, separation, and description of biological molecules as they function within an organism.

What Is Applied Biochemistry?

In a nutshell, applied biochemistry is the practical application of the theories and research made by biochemists. It’s also one of the two major strains in biochemistry:

  • Pure biochemistry – mainly focused on theoretical and academic aspects of the science
  • Applied biochemistry – focused on the practical and technological aspects of the science

Applied biochemistry involves the use of biochemistry concepts and methodologies in various fields that have economic and social significance, such as forensics. It’s also used extensively in various industries, like pharmaceuticals, to address real-world problems and provide tangible solutions.

Find out more about chemistry education in our chemistry education resources hub.

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