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Definition of Biochemistry and the Development of Modern Biochemistry

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Definition of Biochemistry

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Definition of Biochemistry is the study of the molecular chemistry basis of life. Biochemical studies include knowledge of the structure and function of molecules found in the biological world and an understanding of the exact biochemical pathways through which organic molecules are united or broken down. Biochemistry seeks to describe the structure, organization and functioning of living matter in molecular terms.

The physical elements of living matter obey the same basic laws that govern all living and non-living matter. Therefore, the full potential of modern chemical and physical theories can be brought to solve certain biological problems. In addition, biophysical techniques and molecular biology allow scientists to ask questions about the basic processes of life.

Biochemistry refers to its main themes of many disciplines. For example from organic chemistry, which describes the properties of biomolecules; from biophysics, which applies physical techniques to study the structure of biomolecules; from medical research, which is increasingly seeking to understand the state of the disease in molecular terms and also from nutrition, microbiology, physiology, cellbiology and genetics.

The origin and development of biochemistry

Biochemistry draws power from all these disciplines but is also a distinct discipline, with its own identity. This is typical in its emphasis on the structure and relationship of biomolecules, especially enzymes and biological catalysis on the explanation of metabolic and control pathways and on the principle that life processes can, at least at the physical level, be understood through chemical laws. It has its origins as a different field of study in the early nineteenth century, with the pioneering work of Friedrich Wöhler (1800–1882). Before Wöhler’s time it was believed that the substance of living matter was somehow quantitatively different from non-living matter and did not behave in accordance with known laws of physics and chemistry.

In 1828 Wöhler showed that urea, a substance of biological origin excreted by humans and many animals as a product of nitrogen metabolism, could be synthesized in the laboratory from the inorganic compound ammonium cyanate. Then, in 1897, two German brothers, Eduard and Hans Buchner, discovered that extracts from damaged and completely dead cells from yeast, could still carry out the whole process of fermenting sugar into ethanol.

This discovery opened the door to in vitro analysis of biochemical reactions and processes (Latin “in glass”), which means in test tubes rather than in vivo (in living matter). In the following decades many metabolic reactions and other reaction pathways were reproduced in vitro, allowing the identification of reactants and products and enzymes, or biological catalysts, that promote each biochemical reaction.

Definition of Biochemistry
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Until 1926, the structure of enzymes (or “fermentation”) was considered too complex to describe in chemical terms. But in 1926 J.B. Sumner showed that urease protein, an enzyme from jack beans, can be crystallized like any other organic compound. Although proteins have a large and complex structure, they are also organic compounds and their physical structure can be determined by chemical methods.

Modern biochemistry

Today, the study of biochemistry can be broadly divided into three main areas:

  1. Structural chemistry of the components of living matter and the relationship of biological functions with chemical structures;
  2. Metabolism, total chemical reactions occurring in living matter; and
  3. Chemical processes and substances that store and transmit biological information. The third area is also the province of molecular genetics, a field that seeks to understand heredity and the expression of genetic information in molecular terms.

Biochemistry has a great influence in the field of medicine. The molecular mechanisms of many diseases, such as sickle cell anemia and many metabolic errors, have been described. The test of the activity of enzymes today is indispensable in clinical diagnosis. For example, liver disease is routinely diagnosed and monitored by measuring levels of enzymes in the blood called transaminases and hemoglobin breakdown products called bilirubin.

Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) probes allow the detection of some genetic disorders, infectious diseases, and cancers. Genetically engineered strains of bacteria containing recombinant DNA produce valuable proteins such as human insulin and growth hormone. Biochemistry is also a fundamentally important part of drug design.

Identifying and sequencing the genes responsible for causing the disease, and genetic cloning technology has led to tremendous progress in understanding the relationship between genes and proteins. In addition, the molecular bases of some diseases, such as sickle cell anemia, and many congenital metabolic errors are now known. Biochemical tests for enzyme activity have become indispensable in clinical diagnosis. Indeed, the field of biochemistry, which investigates the relationship between the structure of molecules and the functioning of living beings at the molecular level, has been greatly altered by recombinant DNA technology.

This has led to the integration of molecular genetics and protein biochemistry. The complicated interactions of the genetic makeup (genotype) and how the structure of the molecule affects the function and various physical properties (phenotypes) are being parsed at the molecular level.

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