What is biochemistry?
Biochemistry is an interdisciplinary experimental science where the principles of chemistry and biology come together to examine the chemical composition of living beings, as well as the chemical processes that occur within them and that enable their biological functions.
The study of biochemistry in particular focuses on proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, and nucleic acids, as well as the chemical reactions that these compounds undergo (metabolism) to get energy (catabolism) and generate their own biomolecules (anabolism).
What are biomolecules?
Biological molecules are organic compounds; this means that they are composed mainly of carbon. These molecules also contain hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur.
How did biochemistry come about?
It is difficult to establish the limits of biochemistry throughout the history of science because it often overlaps with the fields of biology and organic chemistry. However, the emergence of biochemistry is usually situated in the year 1828, when German chemist Friedrich Wöhler synthesized urea, verifying that organic compounds can be created artificially and are not generated exclusively within living beings.
Both biophysics and biochemistry oppose vitalism, an old and obsolete philosophical-scientific conception that supported the existence of an intrinsic life force in living organisms to which their functioning was attributed. Over time, science slowly discarded this idea. Today, there is unanimous agreement on the fact that the chemical and physical principles governing the rest of the universe are sufficient to explain vital processes.
What are the main techniques in biochemistry?
Biochemistry combines techniques widely used in many laboratories with other techniques that are highly unique to the discipline. These include:
- Cell fractionation.
- Mass spectrometry.
- Western blotting or immunoblotting.
- Polymerase chain reaction (PCR).
What are the areas of biochemistry?
The areas of study within biochemistry are as wide-ranging as the subjects studied. Some of the branches of biochemistry include:
- Molecular genetics and genetic engineering: focuses on DNA and RNA to study genes, their inheritance, and their expression.
- Chemical ecology: studies semiochemical compounds (those that are emitted by an organism and influence the behavior of other individuals of the same or other species) and allelochemicals (which influence the growth, survival, and reproduction of other organisms).
- Virology: studies viruses to recognize and classify them, as well as the mechanisms of action to oppose them. Recently, machine learning has taken on an important role in this application thanks to its ability to predict mutations.
- Xenobiochemistry: applied in pharmacology and toxicology; studies the metabolic behavior of compounds whose chemical structure is not part of the regular metabolism of a given organism, such as mycotoxins, phytochemicals, and other compounds not commonly found in nature. Currently, one of the main focuses of xenobiology is endogenous components, such as free radicals.
- Neurochemistry: studies molecules involved in brain activity, such as neurotransmitters, but also other molecules that influence neural activity, such as psychoactive drugs.
What applications does biochemistry have?
Biochemistry continues to evolve and play a fundamental role in scientific advancement. Some of its applications include:
- Medicine: located at the base of biomedicine. It plays a leading role in the development of personalized therapies for the treatment of complex diseases, as well as in the development of gene therapies for diseases such as HIV and cancer.
- Ecology: it has significant applications in the field of bioremediation, which aims to reverse or mitigate damage to ecosystems through biotechnological processes, making it possible to prevent the extinction of species. It also has multiple applications in the fight against climate change.
- Nutrition: genetically modified foods drive sustainable development, help preserve biodiversity, reduce the impact of agriculture on the environment, reduce the possibility of shortages, and more.
- Industry: biochemistry enables the development of new materials and techniques to improve the efficiency and sustainability of industrial processes.