Biochemistry is the study of chemical processes in living organisms, including, but not limited to, living matter. Biochemistry governs all living organisms and living processes. By controlling information flow through biochemical signaling and the flow of chemical energy through metabolism, biochemical processes give rise to the incredible complexity of life.
Over the last decades of the 20th century, biochemistry become so successful at explaining living processes that now almost all areas of the life sciences from botany to medicine to genetics are engaged in biochemical research. Today, the main focus of pure biochemistry is in understanding how biological molecules give rise to the processes that occur within living cells, which in turn relates greatly to the study and understanding of whole organisms.
Biochemistry is closely related to molecular biology, the study of the molecular mechanisms by which genetic information encoded in DNA is able to result in the processes of life. Depending on the exact definition of the terms used, molecular biology can be thought of as a branch of biochemistry, or biochemistry as a tool with which to investigate and study molecular biology.
Much of biochemistry deals with the structures, functions and interactions of biological macromolecules, such as proteins, nucleic acids, carbohydrates and lipids, which provide the structure of cells and perform many of the functions associated with life. The chemistry of the cell also depends on the reactions of smaller molecules and ions. These can be inorganic, for example water and metal ions, or organic, for example the amino acids which are used to synthesize proteins. The mechanisms by which cells harness energy from their environment via chemical reactions are known as metabolism. The findings of biochemistry are applied primarily in medicine, nutrition, and agriculture. In medicine, biochemists investigate the causes and cures of disease. In nutrition, they study how to maintain health and study the effects of nutritional deficiencies. In agriculture, biochemists investigate soil and fertilizers, and try to discover ways to improve crop cultivation, crop storage and pest control. Much of biochemistry deals with the structures and functions of cellular components such as proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, nucleic acids and other biomolecules—although increasingly processes rather than individual molecules are the main focus.
Contributors and Attributions
- 13.3: Introduction to Fatty Acids
- Fatty acids are carboxylic acids with long hydrocarbon chains. There are two groups of fatty acids--saturated and unsaturated. Recall that the term unsaturated refers to the presence of one or more double bonds between carbons as in alkenes. A saturated fatty acid has all bonding positions between carbons occupied by hydrogens. The melting points for the saturated fatty acids follow the boiling point principle observed previously.
- 13.4: Steroids
- One major class of lipids is the steroids, which have structures totally different from the other classes of lipids. The main feature of steroids is the ring system of three cyclohexanes and one cyclopentane in a fused ring system as shown below. There are a variety of functional groups that may be attached. The main feature, as in all lipids, is the large number of carbon-hydrogens which make steroids non-polar.
- 13.5: Structure of Amino Acids
- Amino acid monomers are chemically linked to form linear polymers known as proteins.
- 13.6: Nomenclature of Amino acids
- There are 20 common amino acids. They are composed of C, H, O, N and S atoms. They are structurally and chemically different, and also differ in size and volume. Some are branched structures, some are linear, some have ring structures. One of the 20 common amino acids is actually an imino acid.
- 13.8: The Structure of Proteins
- This page explains how amino acids combine to make proteins and what is meant by the primary, secondary and tertiary structures of proteins. Quaternary structure isn't covered. It only applies to proteins consisting of more than one polypeptide chain.