Contact FutureLearn for Support
Skip main navigation
We use cookies to give you a better experience, if that’s ok you can close this message and carry on browsing. For more info read our cookies policy.
We use cookies to give you a better experience. Carry on browsing if you're happy with this, or read our cookies policy for more information.

Skip to 0 minutes and 1 secondBiochemistry is the distinct branch of science that combines biological and chemical methods to study the molecular basis of life. It encompasses incredibly active and diverse fields of scientific research, providing the foundations of many other scientific disciplines and impacting upon almost every aspect of our lives. For example, some biochemists focus on decoding the genetic information in DNA, identifying specific genes and characterising the proteins they code for, advancing the fields of genetics and proteomics. Biochemistry has also identified the anomalies and disruptions in metabolic pathways that lead to some disease, and so their input into pharmacological research is vital for the development of new and improved medicines.

Skip to 0 minutes and 46 secondsTo continue into a career that involves biochemistry, it is not absolutely necessary to study the subject at a university. It is possible to learn biochemistry skills and expertise as part of on the job training, for example in relevant industry or in a research institute. Biochemical skills and knowledge are also often obtained through training on other courses – including some outside of higher education – and this approach is particularly important in some disciplines, such as those involving medicine or health sciences. The majority of biochemists do obtain their first training in the subject at an institute of higher education. Many universities around the world teach courses that involve biochemistry, particularly if they have links to current research in the sciences.

Skip to 1 minute and 30 secondsAll courses will cover the basic details that are highlighted in this MOOC, such as the metabolic pathways that exist in all cells. But there will also be differences in the focus of the subject at different universities because the advanced levels of the course will usually link to research that is being undertaken at that university. There will also be differences

Skip to 1 minute and 55 secondsin the way the subject is delivered: some universities have specific departments of Biochemistry while others teach the subject from a combination of their experts in departments of Biology and Chemistry. Each approach to gaining a training in biochemistry brings its own benefits, and if you are planning to study biochemistry at advanced levels you should choose your course after thinking carefully about the approach and subject details that you favour. However, whatever course you choose you can be sure that a biochemistry course will teach you about exciting science and train you in practical skills that are highly valued.

Skip to 2 minutes and 30 secondsIf you chose to study either biology or chemistry at advanced levels in high school you probably already understand some key biochemistry of cells, such as the chemical basis of DNA, and how it facilitates the replication of genetic information. You might also be familiar with the structural levels of proteins and how different types of chemical bonds stabilise these structures, enabling the proteins to carry out their functions. This knowledge is based upon discoveries made by biochemists, and now constitutes fundamental principles in the biochemical field of molecular biology. The understanding of how the structure of a molecule relates to expansion is central to biochemistry and this information now allows biochemists to predict how molecules will function and interact with each other.

Skip to 3 minutes and 19 secondsThe borders to the subject of biochemistry are not easy to define, and in the next two weeks of this course we will highlight how the breadth of the subject is the source of its potential to improve many aspects of our lives. For example, biochemists are at the forefront of research into addressing environmental degradation, and advanced biochemical technologies are likely to play a crucial role in our efforts to achieve a sustainable means of living worldwide. In the second week of this course, we will introduce some key examples of current biochemical studies that aim to increase the efficiency of how we generate and use energy.

Skip to 3 minutes and 53 secondsCells have evolved with very elegant mechanisms of harnessing energy and converting into a form that can be used for biological processes. The understanding of these metabolic processes is the inspiration for the design and development of advanced biotechnology products that can be used to generate novel types of bioenergy. In addition to carrying out the metabolic processes that make the essential components of life, such as amino acids, carbohydrates, and nucleotides, some cells also have unique metabolic pathways that produce other chemicals, providing additional functions for the organisms. These chemicals are known as natural products. By identifying the natural products that are essential for healthy living, biochemical research has been fundamental in increasing public understanding of the importance of good nutrition.

Skip to 4 minutes and 48 secondsNatural products are also particularly abundant in medicine and the treatment of human disease relies heavily on the work of biochemists. You might already have learnt about some antibiotics, such as penicillin; since its discovery it has saved millions of lives. However, the emerging problem of antibiotic resistance is now presenting a serious challenge to healthcare worldwide, meaning that biochemical research into identifying novel natural products with antibacterial properties is crucial. As you progress in this course and continue with your studies you will encounter countless other examples of how biochemistry continues to address challenges faced by society worldwide, and appreciate how it can improve and influence many aspects of our lives.

What is biochemistry?

This video highlights the topics that exist in both biology and chemistry, “crossover points”, and in particular those that are discussed in the course.

The course leaders present their own complementary but differing perspectives on this topic.

There will be opportunities to discuss your opinions on these views in the next step of the course.


Technical terms in simplified form

Antibiotic

Antibiotics - also called antibacterials - are types of drugs that attack microbes and are used in the treatment and prevention of bacterial infection. There are several different types of antibiotics and they may either kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria.

Antimicrobials

Similar to antibiotics, antimicrobial agents kill microorganisms or inhibit their growth. Antimicrobial medicines can be grouped according to the microorganisms they act primarily against: antibiotics are used against bacteria and antifungals are used against fungi.

Antimicrobial resistance

Antimicrobial resistance is used to refer to when populations of micro evolve to become resistant to antimicrobials that previously could treat it. This broad term also covers antibiotic resistance, which applies to bacteria and antibiotics. Resistant microbes are increasingly difficult to treat, requiring alternative medications or higher doses, which may be more costly or more toxic. Antimicrobial resistance is on the rise and some infections are now completely untreatable due to resistance.

Metabolic pathway

Metabolic pathways are series of linked chemical reactions occurring within a cell. The reactants, products, and intermediates of each reaction are known as metabolites, which are modified by a sequence of chemical reactions catalyzed by enzymes. In a metabolic pathway, the product of one enzyme acts as the substrate for the next. Two main types of metabolic pathways are defined based on their ability to either synthesize large, complex molecules with a required input of energy (anabolic pathway) or break down the complex molecules into smaller ones and releasing energy in the process (catabolic pathway). These two types of pathways complement each other because the energy released from catabolic pathways provides the energy required to undertake anabolic pathways.

Pharmacology

Pharmacology is the branch of medicine and biology concerned with studying how drugs act. In this context, drugs can be defined as any man-made or natural molecule that exerts a biochemical and/or physiological effect on cells, tissues or organisms. Pharmacology involves the study of the interactions that occur between a living organism and chemicals that affect normal or abnormal biochemical function. If substances have medicinal properties, they are considered pharmaceuticals.

Replication of genetic information

Replication relates to processes that produce two (or more) identical replicas of the starting point. In biochemistry replication usually refers to the production of two identical molecules of DNA from one original DNA molecule. This process occurs in all living organisms and is the basis for biological inheritance. DNA is made up of a double helix of two strands, and each strand of the original DNA molecule serves as a template for the production of the complementary strand, a process referred to as semi-conservative replication. A number of proteins are associated with replication, but most significant one is DNA polymerase, which synthesizes the new DNA molecule by adding complementary nucleotides to the template strand.

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Biochemistry: the Molecules of Life

UEA (University of East Anglia)