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Biochemistry research stands at the crossroads of chemistry and biology, seeking answers to questions about the chemistry of living beings and how chemical substances behave in the environment of a living person or animal or plant or other living being. It is also called both biochemical research and biological chemistry. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most biochemists are involved in either academic or industrial biochemistry research.
Possible topics of study range from the complex chemical changes that occur at the cellular level to the processes within an individual living being, such as growth and brain function, to processes that take place across generations, such as heredity. Within any of these areas from the single cell to the family group—or even at larger levels—biochemists may study structures and their functions and processes, biochemical causes and effects, relationships between and among structures and organs. They may also attempt to synthesize or engineer products that would serve a role in medical science, for example.
With a focus on organic compounds, biochemistry research may focus on one of the four main types of organic matter found in a cell. One type is protein, the macromolecules made up of amino acids that form an essential component of the diet of people and animals. A second is carbohydrates, compounds composed entirely of oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen, which combine into foods such as sugars, cellulose, and starches. A third is called fats or lipids which are an important mechanism of providing energy reserves for organisms. Fourth is nucleic acids, which are present in all cells and which are key to protein synthesis and the transmission of genes.
Nutrition is another important area of biochemistry research and many biochemists are employed in the food industry. Biochemists study the biochemistry of food in and of itself as well as how it is used in the body, which involves the study of digestion. New food processes can be tested to see what, if any, impact they have on the nutritional quality of the food product, and new ideas for how to meet special nutritional needs can be devised. Other areas of biochemistry research include metabolism, hormones, the circulatory system, genetics, specific diseases, pharmacology, stem cell development, toxicology, and immunochemistry.
Biochemistry research was established by the late eighteenth century. The first time an organic compound was synthesized in the laboratory was when Friedrich Wöhler synthesized urea in 1828. Today, biochemistry research continues to look at some of the same areas that interested scientists several centuries ago, albeit using different equipment. Biochemistry researchers have some very specialized tools at their disposal. These include spectrophotometry, DNA gel electrophoresis, chromatography, and mass spectrometry.