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What are the basics of biochemistry? - Open Education Online

What are the basics of biochemistry?

As you may already guess from the term, Biochemistry is a scientific field that can be considered to be somewhere between Chemistry and Biology. Biochemistry is the discipline that studies large biomolecules, chemical reactions, and mechanisms of the reactions that occur in a living organism. Moreover, it also provides evidence of essential pathways that have been responsible for the development and evolution of living organisms through time.

Biochemistry allows us to identify specific functions of large molecules that are involved in crucial processes occurring in any living organism. Therefore, it is a very broad discipline, comprising a wide variety of concepts from Chemistry, Biology, Physics, and other sub-disciplines.

At first glance, Biochemistry might not seem as important as it truly is. Rather, people usually believe that it is just a science and there is no need for everyone on our planet to understand it. On the contrary, Biochemistry is one of the most important subjects that can help us understand why our bodies work in the manner that they do. Or, what are the causes and solutions to so many genetic or non-inherited disorders.

Considering the multidisciplinary characteristics of Biochemistry, there are various sub-fields that specialize in specific issues concerning biochemical principles.

But what are the basics, or fundamentals, of Biochemistry?

Even if each branch of Biochemistry is used to understand specific issues, there is no way one can get the idea of these issues without a complete comprehension of basic Biochemistry. Thus, this article will provide some of the major concepts that are fundamental to Biochemistry.

Introductory Concepts

Before starting to learn actual biochemical concepts, it is required to have a good understanding of some General and Organic Chemistry as well as Biology. For that reason, the first several topics to start with always include the overview of chemical and biological aspects involved in any living organism. Such issues include the concept of the origin of life, more specifically, how large biomolecules arose from simple atoms and substances such as carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, calcium, sulfur, other trace elements, water, ammonia, carbon dioxide, etc.

Furthermore, it is also of huge importance to consider the cellular architecture and compartmentation of eukaryotes and prokaryotes. Along with that, the consideration of the evolutionary processes is also essential for better understanding of biochemical principles.

In terms of chemical concepts, one of the main aspects to consider is thermodynamics which is the study of the influence of energy on matter. You might think that thermodynamics is only related to chemical reactions but that is not the case. Life on earth is completely dependent upon the laws of thermodynamics. Therefore, it is very important to have a thorough understanding of the concept.


When you see a term “molecule” you might think of Chemistry, but molecules are also very important part of Biology and Biochemistry. Biomolecules, also referred to as biological molecules are essential for a wide variety of life processes. About 65% of a human body is made of water but the rest of it is composed of large biomolecules, such as lipids, proteins, nucleic acids, or carbohydrates.

A complete understanding of biomolecules involved in a living organism is essential for further educational studies in different branches of Biochemistry. Therefore, concepts regarding different biomolecules are fundamental to Biochemistry. The topics are as follows:

  • Nucleotides and Nucleic Acids

    Nucleotides are connected to nearly every aspect of cellular life. They participate in various reactions, including but not limited to redox reactions, energy transfer, cell signaling, and biosynthesis. On the other hand, nucleic acids are polymers of nucleotides and are commonly referred to as DNA and RNA which play a primary role in storage and management of genetic information in a living organism.

  • Amino Acids

    Amino acids are essential parts of life and represent building blocks for proteins. Amino acids have been evolved and co-opted in living organisms for a wide variety of reasons. The knowledge of the structure, chemical properties, and functions of essential amino acids (20 amino acids are considered as essential for life) is fundamental for further educational studies in this field.

  • Proteins

    Proteins are polymers of amino acids consisting of different combinations of 20 essential amino acids. These biomolecules are at the core of various biological processes. Moreover, identification of protein sequences is used to reveal evolutionary relationships. Since proteins are essential for catalysis, metabolic pathways, DNA replication, cell signaling, and molecular transport, it is of huge importance to have knowledge of these molecules before proceeding to more comprehensive areas of Biochemistry.

  • Carbohydrates

    Carbohydrates, also referred to as saccharides are one of the most abounding biomolecules on our planet. The fact that carbohydrates are composed of just three elements (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen) makes them somewhat simpler than nucleotides or amino acids. Despite this, they comprise varied functions and are of immense importance for a wide variety of living processes.

  • Lipids

    Last but not least, lipids are one of the major biomolecules that are present in every cell. Even though these molecules are not polymeric, they exhibit more comprehensive structural diversity than other biological molecules. Moreover, lipids are classified according to the composition and presence of different functional groups. Accordingly, structures and functions of different types of lipids vary.


The study of enzymes which is termed “Enzymology” is one of the essential concepts of Biochemistry. If chemical reactions are catalyzed by simple catalysis, biochemical reactions involve catalysis by enzymes. Therefore, biological catalysts are referred to as enzymes.

Even though enzymes work in a quite similar manner as catalysts, they still differ from chemical catalysts in several essential aspects, including higher reaction rates, milder reaction conditions, greater reaction specificity, and better capacity for regulation. Moreover, enzymes are classified into 6 main categories according to their functions and the type of a reaction that they catalyze. These categories are the following: oxidoreductases, transferases, hydrolases, lyases, isomerases, and ligases.

Since it would not have been possible for the living organisms to live without the involvement of enzymes, it is essential to fully understand how enzymes work. For that reason, the concept of enzyme mechanisms is considered as fundamental to Biochemistry.


Metabolism represents the set of reactions through which biological molecules are built and broken down resulting in the absorption or release of the energy. The overall process which is divided into two parts, catabolism and anabolism, is an essential concept of Biochemistry that provides an important evidence of how living organisms maintain their functions.

As we already discussed the importance of enzymes in reactions, we should consider the role of enzymatic reactions in metabolic pathways which represent the series of connected reactions catalyzed by specific enzymes.

To better understand the study of metabolism, also referred to as Metabolomics, it is of immense importance to first examine the general principles of metabolism of various biomolecules in our bodies. Furthermore, metabolic pathways for different types of compounds (glucose, glycogen, lipids, amino acids, etc.) vary from each other. Thus, prior knowledge of structures and functions of the molecules involved in metabolism is also essential.

Cell Signaling

Cell signaling is one of the most interesting and crucial concepts of Biochemistry since it involves the communication patterns between different cells in a living organism. Moreover, transduces signals govern how specific cells respond to an external or internal stimuli or coordinate in the processes involving multiple types of cells.

Proteins are the major biomolecules that are involved in the process of signal transduction within and between the cells. Therefore, signaling within or between cells can be classified in different categories, including but not limited to the following: intracrine, autocrine, paracrine, and endocrine signaling.

For further studies in the field of cell signaling, it is of huge importance to have general knowledge regarding all biomolecules involved in the process along with the specific terms used to define different activities.

Genetic Aspects of Biochemistry

One of the most important aspects of Biochemistry can be considered to be Genetics which is the branch of Biology that is concerned with the examination of genes, genetic variations, gene expression and replication, or heredity patterns in different organisms.

There are various sub-branches of Genetics which require the thorough knowledge of general concepts and ideas linked with the topics mentioned above. For that reason, concepts such as nucleic acid structure and function, DNA replication, repair and recombination, Transcription, RNA processing, protein synthesis, and regulation of gene expression are fundamental for more complicated and broad studies.

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