Introduction to Biochemistry

Biochemists discuss chemistry with biologists, and biology with chemists, thereby confusing both groups. Among themselves, they talk about baseball.


As the name indicates, biochemistry is a hybrid science: Biology is the science of living organisms and chemistry is the science of atoms and molecules, so biochemistry is the science of the atoms and molecules in living organisms. Its domain encompasses all the living world with the unifying interest in the chemical structures and reactions that occur in living systems. Where can you find biochemistry? All through science, medicine, and agriculture.

Biochemistry underlies ordinary life in unseen ways: For example, take a middle‐aged man who:

  • Takes a drug to lower his serum cholesterol. That drug was developed by a pharmaceutical company's biochemists to inhibit a key enzyme involved in cholesterol biosynthesis
  • Shaves with a cream containing compounds that soften his beard. These active agents were developed after studies of the physical properties of keratin, the protein in hair.

  • Eats a breakfast cereal fortified with vitamins identified through nutritional biochemistry.

  • Wears a shirt made from pest‐resistant cotton. The cotton plants were bioengineered by biochemists through the transfer of genes from a bacterium into plants.

  • Goes fishing after work. The conservation agents who manage the stream use biochemical information from the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) sequences to track the genetics of the fish population.

  • Drinks milk before bedtime. His sleep is helped by the amino acids in the milk, which are converted by his brain into molecular signals that lead to a resting state in other parts of his brain.

All these everyday events depend on an understanding of the chemistry of living systems.