What exactly is Biochemistry?

What is “biochemistry”? This is a common question often heard at any family gathering when one starts to study biochemistry. People often think it is a quick way to say you study biology and chemistry. For those who have had the opportunity to pick up a Lehninger textbook, one can see that biochemistry is not simply the study of biology and chemistry. It is also not the study of just the intersection of biology and chemistry; it is so much more!

I often think of biochemists as the liaisons between the worlds of chemistry and biology. Someone who studies biochemistry must be able to talk about important topics in each field and be able to communicate these topics to the other field in a way that makes sense. Biochemist must be able to understand the importance of making and break bonds but also be able to see how these new bond formations impact the organism at a molecular or cellular level. As a biochemist, I am able study the manifestations of chemistry within a biological system and be able to analyze the synergistic effects of these reactions to piece together the inner-most workings of a biological system.

One may think that understanding these inner-most workings of a biological system is extremely complicated – and they are right! I originally started to study biochemistry not because of these complications but because I loved biology and was interested in the overlap biology has with chemistry. Soon I realized that I care more about these complications than just the simple overlap chemistry may have with biology. I was able to see the beauty when material gets complicated.

I simply love when information pulls on many different principles. It continues to amaze me that any interdisciplinary science does not simply combine two different areas of knowledge but interweaves them to create something new. For example, I love being able to use techniques from physical chemistry, organic chemistry, and cell biology to find a result that only makes sense if you understand each sub-discipline of chemistry or biology.

The ability to use to bodies of information and to integrate them to understand something completely different is one of the most important skills I have learned while taking biochemistry classes. Since I want to pursue a Ph.D. in pharmaceutical science, it is very necessary for me to combine my knowledge of cell biology, physical chemistry, and organic chemistry to solve the problems I will face in graduate school.

Additionally, studying biochemistry will help me when I have a job after graduate school. Besides having the skill to integrate different areas of knowledge, biochemistry also teaches someone how to look at the problems from different lens or levels. For example, in biochemistry it is important to understand how the chemistry of how amino acids are hooked together to make proteins. We as biochemist understand that this dehydration reaction eliminates a water group to form a carbon – nitrogen bond. Additionally, we understand that if a protein is incorrectly made because this reaction does not work properly, then the protein will cause a host of issues for the organism.

Lastly, biochemistry is arguable one of the most important sciences to understand if one wants to understand the etiology of a disease. Often the body have an error that impacts the biochemistry of the body. Understanding the full severity of this issues is important for anyone who is trying to treat a  disease. As a future pharmaceutical scientist, I am looking forward to incorporating the skills I have learned studying biochemistry into the skills I learn in graduate school.

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