Biochemistry as a "Practical" Subject
The undertaking of experiments and analysis of resulting data is very important for biochemists. Therefore, a training in biochemistry develops practical-based skills and an appreciation of a range of scientific methods.
Biochemists must learn how to complete experiments in accurate and reproducible ways and all biochemistry courses spend a significant amount of time developing these practical skills. During this course we will introduce you to this area of biochemistry and in each week we will describe some experiments that you can try yourself. The first of these experiments will be described in the next step, where you will be provided with a method that allows DNA to be extracted from fruit.
Some biochemistry experiments look at how the three dimensional (3D) structure of molecules affects their function, which you can begin to explore in this Gallery of Molecules. This website has been developed for us by Dr Stephen Ashworth, a chemist from UEA. It allows you to look at the structures of some of the amazing molecules that are important for biological processes. In our Gallery we have posted structures of some molecules that will be referred to during this course. We will re-visit this web site in weeks 2 and 3 when we look at molecules that are relevant to topics discussed in those weeks.
If you want to you can also try to find the structure of other chemicals that you may have heard about. For example, you have probably heard about glucose and we will discuss this more in week 2 of this course. You can see the structure of glucose on our Gallery like so:
- First, go to the Gallery of Molecules
- Then click on the link “Search public databases”
- In the Search box type in “glucose” and select a database - for this example it is best to select “PubChem (small molecules)”
- Click on the “Search” button and within a few seconds you will hopefully see the chemical structure of glucose”!
You can also try searching for molecules in some of the other databases, including for large macromolecules. But note that we do not know the molecular structure of all chemicals, so sometimes your search does not find a structure. If this is the case, you could try searching one of the other databases for the structure, or move on to a different molecule!
If you have access to the standard type of red-cyan glasses that are used to watch movies in 3D - like those in the image above - you will even be able to see the structures in 3D.
As an introduction to experiments that probe biology and chemistry concepts you may wish to explore the links included below.
Technical terms in simplified form
Glucose is a carbohydrate (sugar) with the molecular formula C6H12O6. It is important for most cells because it allows them to gain energy to grow and divide. It occurs in different chemical forms with one, known as dextrose, occuring widely in nature. Glucose is stored as a polymer, in plants as starch and in animals as glycogen, for times when the organism will need it.
Large, complex molecules that are important in biological cells. Typically these are synthesized within cells due to anabolic reactions that start from smaller, precursor molecules. Common forms of macromolecules include fats, nucleic acids (DNA and RNA), polysaccharides and proteins (also referred to as polypeptides).