What is Molecular Biochemistry?

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  • Written By: Jason C. Chavis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 03 October 2019
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Molecular biochemistry is the study of the functions of living organisms. Specifically, it focuses on the chemical processes involved in the structure and activity of organisms at the molecular level. Individuals who study molecular biochemistry focus heavily on the biochemical research of proteins, lipids, carbohydrates and nucleic acids found in various combination of these molecules.

Molecules can be very large and complex and assemble into large units known as polymers. These macromolecules use repeating structural units that are connected by the sharing of an electron. This process is known as covalent chemical bonding. Polymers are then broken down into subunits known as monomers. The most common of these monomers is glucose, which bonds together to form cellulose and starch. Another common polymer is protein, which is comprised of amino acids. Molecular biochemists work to understand the structure of these monomers and their larger creation of polymers as well as how they work and interact within an organism.


One of the most important aspects of molecular biology is to understand the chemical properties of the molecules. Cell metabolism is an example of research using molecular biochemistry. Chemical reactions occur in all living organisms and are needed to maintain life. The various processes within the cell are responsible for reproduction, structure maintenance and autonomic response to stimuli. Molecular biochemists study the two main categories of metabolism: catabolism and anabolism. Catbolism is the process by which matter is broken down and energy is harvested in cellular respiration. Anabolism uses the energy to build the various components within a cell.

Beyond the living structures of molecules, molecular biochemistry also studies viruses. Viruses can only reproduce inside the cell of a host, making them a pseudo-life form. These entities can impact various parts of molecules, affecting everything from protein synthesis to cell membrane transport. All types of organisms, plant or animal, can be infected by viruses. Molecular biochemists have identified over 5,000 types of viruses worldwide, in nearly every ecosystem imaginable. The branch of molecular biochemistry that studies these organisms is known as virology.

Molecular biochemistry began in the early 1800s with Friedrich Wohler. He published a paper proving that the organic compound of urea could be synthesized in 1828. This was followed by the discovery of the enzyme amylase, which breaks down sugars, in 1833 by Anselme Payen. Amylase was the first enzyme to be identified and showed that various substances within the molecule were responsible for different actions. Studies continued over the next decades which brought new concepts such as DNA to the forefront. Today, molecular biochemistry is one of the most important aspects in the further understanding of the building blocks of life.


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What is the role of molecular biology in agriculture or plant biosciences?

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