Biochemistry



Biochemistry, sometimes called biological chemistry, is the study of chemical processes within and relating to living organisms. By controlling information flow through biochemical signaling and the flow of chemical energy through metabolism, biochemical processes give rise to the complexity of life. Over the last decades of the 20th century, biochemistry has become so successful at explaining living processes that now almost all areas of the life sciences from botany to medicine to genetics are engaged in biochemical research. Today, the main focus of pure biochemistry is on understanding how biological molecules give rise to the processes that occur within living cells, which in turn relates greatly to the study and understanding of tissues, organs, and whole organisms —that is, all of biology.

Biochemistry is closely related to molecular biology, the study of the molecular mechanisms by which genetic information encoded in DNA is able to result in the processes of life. Depending on the exact definition of the terms used, molecular biology can be thought of as a branch of biochemistry, or biochemistry as a tool with which to investigate and study molecular biology.

It was once generally believed that life and its materials had some essential property or substance (often referred to as the "vital principle") distinct from any found in non-living matter, and it was thought that only living beings could produce the molecules of life. Then, in 1828, Friedrich W?hler published a paper on the synthesis of urea, proving that organic compounds can be created artificially. Since then, biochemistry has advanced, especially since the mid-20th century, with the development of new techniques such as chromatography, X-ray diffraction, dual polarisation interferometry, NMR spectroscopy, radioisotopic labeling, electron microscopy, and molecular dynamics simulations. These techniques allowed for the discovery and detailed analysis of many molecules and metabolic pathways of the cell, such as glycolysis and the Krebs cycle (citric acid cycle).

Another significant historic event in biochemistry is the discovery of the gene and its role in the transfer of information in the cell. This part of biochemistry is often called molecular biology. In the 1950s, James D. Watson, Francis Crick, Rosalind Franklin, and Maurice Wilkins were instrumental in solving DNA structure and suggesting its relationship with genetic transfer of information. In 1958, George Beadle and Edward Tatum received the Nobel Prize for work in fungi showing that one gene produces one enzyme. In 1988, Colin Pitchfork was the first person convicted of murder with DNA evidence, which led to the growth of forensic science. More recently, Andrew Z. Fire and Craig C. Mello received the 2006 Nobel Prize for discovering the role of RNA interference (RNAi), in the silencing of gene expression

The function of carbohydrates includes energy storage and providing structure. Sugars are carbohydrates, but not all carbohydrates are sugars. There are more carbohydrates on Earth than any other known type of biomolecule; they are used to store energy and genetic information, as well as play important roles in cell to cell interactions and communications.

When two monosaccharides undergo dehydration synthesis whereby a molecule of water is released, as two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom are lost from the two monosaccharides. The new molecule, consisting of two monosaccharides, is called a disaccharide and is conjoined together by a glycosidic or ether bond. The reverse reaction can also occur, using a molecule of water to split up a disaccharide and break the glycosidic bond; this is termed hydrolysis. The most well-known disaccharide is sucrose, ordinary sugar (in scientific contexts, called table sugar or cane sugar to differentiate it from other sugars). Sucrose consists of a glucose molecule and a fructose molecule joined together. Another important disaccharide is lactose, consisting of a glucose molecule and a galactose molecule. As most humans age, the production of lactase, the enzyme that hydrolyzes lactose back into glucose and galactose, typically decreases. This results in lactase deficiency, also called lactose intolerance.

When a few (around three to six) monosaccharides are joined, it is called an oligosaccharide (oligo- meaning "few"). These molecules tend to be used as markers and signals, as well as having some other uses. Many monosaccharides joined together make a polysaccharide. They can be joined together in one long linear chain, or they may be branched. Two of the most common polysaccharides are cellulose and glycogen, both consisting of repeating glucose monomers. Examples are Cellulose which is an important structural component of plant's cell walls, and glycogen, used as a form of energy storage in animals.

In order to determine whether two proteins are related, or in other words to decide whether they are homologous or not, scientists use sequence-comparison methods. Methods like sequence alignments and structural alignments are powerful tools that help scientists identify homologies between related molecules. The relevance of finding homologies among proteins goes beyond forming an evolutionary pattern of protein families. By finding how similar two protein sequences are, we acquire knowledge about their structure and therefore their function.

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