We explain what biochemistry is, its history and the importance of this science. In addition, the branches that compose it and what a biochemist does.
What is biochemistry?
Biochemistry is the chemistry of life, that is, the branch of science that is interested in the material composition of living beings . This means the study of its elementary compounds, such as proteins , carbohydrates, lipids and nucleic acids; as well as the processes that allow them to stay alive, such as metabolism (chemical reactions to transform compounds into others), catabolism (obtaining energy) and anabolism (synthesis of the compounds themselves).
Biochemistry exists as a scientific field from the distinction of organic chemistry (the one that structurally heads carbon) from inorganic , since known living beings are chemically composed of a selection of mostly similar atoms : carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur. From them the aforementioned compounds are formed and, from these, in turn, the cells and tissues that make up the body of living beings are formed.
It is an eminently experimental science, which uses scientific method and factual verification through numerous instrumental techniques, own and many other fields, ranging from statistics to physics. His molecular understanding of life is, logically, a consequence of the development of cell theory and the modern development of physics, chemistry and biology.
History of biochemistry
Although biochemistry as such is a relatively modern field of knowledge, its antecedents date from the dawn of humanity itself, for example, with the production of bread by the addition of yeasts (fermentation).
But the actual beginning of this discipline is located in 1828 , when Friedrich Wöhler published an article on the synthesis of urea, demonstrating that organic compounds, contrary to what was believed, can be produced artificially in a laboratory.
From then on, the understanding of the substances that make up the body of living beings only grew exponentially, thanks to the studies of Louis Pasteur, Albrecht Kossel, Wilhelm Kühne and Eduard Buchner in the 19th century.
The true revolution of biochemistry occurred in the second half of the twentieth century, in the hands of modern molecular biology, taking advantage of experimental techniques such as chromatography, centrifugation, electrophoresis, electron microscopy, nuclear magnetic resonance and others more than they are fruit of the scientific-technological advance and of the fields of the chemistry and the physics.
Thanks to the latter, it is possible to understand the cellular metabolic cycles, immunology, enzymatic functioning and DNA sequencing , allowing advances such as the cloning of living beings , genetic intervention, gene therapies, and a variety of different types.
Importance of biochemistry
The knowledge of biochemistry is key to various applied fields of knowledge, such as biotechnology, medicine, pharmacology, agri-food and public health, among others.
This means that biochemical knowledge is key to the understanding of the diverse and complex processes that life implies , which is, in turn, essential to learn to protect, improve, cure, etc.
Branches of biochemistry
Biochemistry comprises a huge variety of branches, which are changing and complexing as the knowledge of chemistry and biology advances . Some of the most important are:
- Structural biochemistry . He is interested in the molecular architecture of organic substances and biological macromolecules, such as proteins, sugars or nucleic acids (such as DNA and RNA ). One of its tasks as a discipline is the engineering (artificial assembly) of proteins.
- Enzymology . Dedicated to the study of the catalytic activity of enzymes , that is, their ability to activate, deactivate, accelerate, slow down or modify in any way the chemical reactions that occur within the living organism.
- Metabolic biochemistry . Focused on the different metabolic pathways that occur at the cellular level in living beings, as well as all the chemical reactions that make life possible as we know it. It also includes bioenergetics, nutritional biochemistry and other more specific areas of study.
- Immunology . Study the chemical relationships that exist between the living organism and its pathogens, such as viruses and bacteria capable of creating diseases. Its main focus is the immune system, a complicated network of detection and response relationships at the cellular and biochemical level.
What does a biochemist do?
A biochemist is a student of the chemistry of life. That means that among their work are the experimentation in medical, pharmacological and toxicological matters , since it specializes in the chemistry of the body and in the reactions that can favor or harm life.
In the industrial area, these types of professionals are vital for food technology, hygiene and safety , or biotechnology: the application of biochemical and biological knowledge to agriculture or livestock, to improve crops, design ideal food for animals of breeding, finding natural pesticides, etc.