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Timeline for biochemistry: metabolism and bioenergetics

Week 2 Timeline video.
In week one of this MOOC, we heard about some of the significant biochemists and biochemistry experiments that have described the chemistry of life since the start of the twentieth century. These included some that related to cellular metabolism and bioenergetics, which we will focus on during the coming week. We are going to hear about important advances in understanding how metabolic processes allow cells to grow and function. Now such findings have brought huge improvements in the understanding of human disease and successful treatments for them. By 1923 scientists had discovered insulin the hormone that allows our bodies to deal with sugar.
And further work on this molecule led to Fred Sanger being awarded his first Nobel Prize in 1958 for his studies on the structure of proteins. A further example in the area of metabolism relates to findings of biochemists who by 1992 had identified that protein function can be controlled by adding phosphate groups. An improved understanding of cellular metabolism links closely to the topic of bioenergetics and we are going to look at this more closely during the coming week. During the past one-hundred years there have been many significant advances in this topic including the characterisation of the enzymes that that produce energy during respiration that are fundamental to all organisms, including ourselves.
More recent biochemical discoveries over the past 10-15 years include determination of the role of RNA in bring able to inhibit gene expression and the findings on structure, function and mechanisms of GPCRs, proteins which receive and process signals that originate from outside of cells. It’s also important to remember that different types of cells make energy in different ways using different protein molecules to do so. Plants are hugely important to the energy cycles of this planet and two important Nobel Prizes in chemistry reflect their significant differences to other organisms. In 1961 Melvin Calvin was awarded the Nobel Prize for identifying pathways that allow plants to use carbon dioxide during photosynthesis.
These reactions now carry his name as they are often referred to as “the Calvin cycle”. Another huge leap in the 1980s was the publication of the three-dimensional structure of a photosynthetic reaction centre a wonderful complex of proteins and other factors which enable plants to make energy during photosynthesis. As we will see during this MOOC, a deeper understanding of the biochemistry of plants will provide important opportunities in bioenergy and biotechnology in our future.

During this week our attention focuses on biochemistry topics linked to cellular metabolism and bioenergetics.

In week 1 we already saw about some of the significant biochemists and biochemistry experiments in these research areas. These were:

Pre-1900: The term “biochemistry” (and its German/French equivalent “biochimie”) becomes synonymous with “physiological chemistry” or the “chemistry of life”. Medical schools start to teach that these studies are important for understanding human disease.

1918: Nobel Prize in Chemistry for Fritz Haber, “for the synthesis of ammonia from its elements”.

1930s: Krebs discovers urea cycle and then the citric acid cycle. This leads to the award of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1953 for his discovery of the citric acid cycle, along with Fritz Albert Lipmann, “for his discovery of co-enzyme A and its importance for intermediary metabolism”.

1978: Nobel Prize in Chemistry for Peter D. Mitchell, “for his contribution to the understanding of biological energy transfer through the formulation of the chemiosmotic theory”.

1997: Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Paul D. Boyer and John E. Walker, “for their elucidation of the enzymatic mechanism underlying the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP)”; Jens C. Skou, “for the first discovery of an ion-transporting enzyme, Na+, K+ -ATPase”.

Some other seminal biochemists and biochemistry experiments in these research areas include:

1902: Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Hermann Emil Fischer, “in recognition of the extraordinary services he has rendered by his work on sugar and purine syntheses”.

1923: Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Frederick Grant Banting and John James Rickard Macleod, “for the discovery of insulin”.

1931: Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Otto Heinrich Warburg, “for his discovery of the nature and mode of action of the respiratory enzyme”.

1958: Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Frederick Sanger, “for his work on the structure of proteins, especially that of insulin”.

1961: Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Melvin Calvin, “for his research on the carbon dioxide assimilation in plants”.

1988: Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Johann Deisenhofer, Robert Huber and Hartmut Michel, “for the determination of the three-dimensional structure of a photosynthetic reaction centre”.

1992: Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Edmond H. Fischer and Edwin G. Krebs, “for their discoveries concerning reversible protein phosphorylation as a biological regulatory mechanism”.

Further information about some of these findings and biochemists is available on the Biochemical Society website.

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Biochemistry: the Molecules of Life

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