Biological/Biochemistry

What Is Biochemistry?

Biochemistry is the study of the structure, composition, and chemical reactions of substances in living systems. Biochemistry emerged as a separate discipline when scientists combined biology with organic, inorganic, and physical chemistry and began to study how living things obtain energy from food, the chemical basis of heredity, what fundamental changes occur in disease, and related issues. Biochemistry includes the sciences of molecular biology, immunochemistry, and neurochemistry, as well as bioinorganic, bioorganic, and biophysical chemistry


Where Is Biochemistry Chemistry Used?

Biochemistry has obvious applications in medicine, dentistry, and veterinary medicine. In food science, biochemists determine the chemical composition of foods, research ways to develop abundant and inexpensive sources of nutritious foods, develop methods to extract nutrients from waste products, and/or invent ways to prolong the shelf life of food products. In agriculture, biochemists study the interaction of herbicides/insecticides with plants and pests. They examine the structure–activity relationships of compounds, determine their ability to inhibit growth, and evaluate the toxicological effects on surrounding life.

Biochemistry spills over into pharmacology, physiology, microbiology, toxicology, and clinical chemistry. In these areas, a biochemist may investigate the mechanism of a drug action; engage in viral research; conduct research pertaining to organ function; or use chemical concepts, procedures, and techniques to study the diagnosis and therapy of disease and the assessment of health.


Work Settings

The underlying principle of biochemistry is understanding the structure of living systems and, in turn, their functions and ways to control them. Biochemists interact with scientists from a wide variety of other disciplines, usually on problems that are a very small piece of a very large and complex system. Although much has been learned about how biological systems work, they are extremely complex and there is still much more to learn. Biological chemists in industry are interested in specific applications that will lead to marketable products, while those in academia or government labs conduct more basic and less applied research.


Industries Where Biochemistry Is Applied

Biotechnology

Biotechnology (“biotech” for short) is a field of applied biology that involves using living organisms and bioprocesses to create or modify products for a specific use. The cultivation of plants has been viewed as the earliest example of biotechnology and the precursor to modern genetic engineering and cell and tissue culture technologies. Virtually all biotechnology products are the result of organic chemistry.

Biotechnology is used in in health care, crop production and agriculture, nonfood uses of crops and other products (e.g., biodegradable plastics, vegetable oil, biofuels), and environmental applications.

Examples of biotechnology companies are GenenTech, Biogen Idec, Monsanto, Dow Agrosciences, Amgen, and Cargill. These companies make products such as seeds for crops that are resistant to certain diseases, seed coatings with specific properties, and plants that are drought resistant.

Pharmaceutical

The pharmaceutical industry develops, produces, and markets drugs licensed for use as medications for humans or animals. Some pharmaceutical companies deal in brand-name (i.e., has a trade name and can be produced and sold only by the company holding the patent) and/or generic (i.e., chemically equivalent, lower-cost version of a brand-name drug) medications and medical devices (agents that act on diseases without chemical interaction with the body). Pharmaceuticals (brand name and generic) and medical devices are subject to a large number of country-specific laws and regulations regarding patenting, testing, safety assurance, efficacy, monitoring, and marketing.

Examples of pharmaceuticals companies are Pfizer, Novartis, Merck, Bayer, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi, Eli Lilly and Company, Roche, and Abbott.

Universities and Government Labs

The U. S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, National Institutes of Health, and U. S. Environmental Protection Agency are just a few of the federal agencies that employ biochemists specializing in basic research to analyze food, drugs, air, water, waste, or animal tissue.