What does it mean to study biochemistry? In brief, biochemistry can be defined as the study of the chemical processes in a living system. Beyond the literal definition, biochemistry means much more. In my sophomore year biochemistry class, we were asked to come up with a definition of what we believed biochemistry to be. Words were thrown around such as DNA and RNA, proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, glycolysis and photosynthesis, among others, but are these (even collectively) what it fundamentally means to study biochemistry? These topics may be within the scope of study, but they don’t necessarily encompass the full breadth of knowledge mastered and toiled over by biochemists.
When someone decides to study biochemistry, they further their knowledge of the molecular and cellular processes of living organisms. This has applications in various fields including, but not limited to, the food industry, agriculture, drug discovery and implementation, and healthcare. Studying biochemistry means taking biology and scaling down to a molecular level, delving into the mechanism behind how certain biological pathways work. The subject provides a biological backbone to chemistry, which teaches us chemical mechanisms yet provides no link as to how they relate to living organisms. Drug discovery and implementation is one example of an important field that requires a strong knowledge of biochemistry, with emphasis on how chemistry directly intersects with biological systems. By understanding how a drug might affect a person at the molecular level, one can better understand how to best (and most efficiently) manufacture it. We need a firm grasp on human biology and the chemistry of the drug, but also a knowledge of how these two fields work together when combined.
Biochemistry touches on many other disciplines, such as molecular biology, genetics, microbiology, immunology, and biophysics. While similar in certain regards, biochemistry is particularly interested in what happens on the small scale, a combination between the definite mechanisms of chemistry and the more theoretical biology. We learn about processes happening inside cells and how structure impacts function, but also how external conditions can alter these systems. These small details are something I’ve always been interested in, which is part of what draws me to biochemistry. Coming into college, I chose to study biochemistry because I knew I had an interest in both biology and chemistry. After taking the introductory biology courses at Muhlenberg, I found that I most appreciated and was drawn to the study of biochemistry. Additionally, the field provides a wide enough umbrella that it allows for any permutation and mixture of biology and chemistry without escaping the study’s scope.
Biochemistry fits nicely into areas that I’m interested in, which are biomedical related fields. In science, I find studies involving humans to be most interesting. In particular, what happens when things go wrong with us, when our bodies don’t cooperate. When a person is sick (in most cases) we can physically see that something is wrong, but it takes running experiments to determine the cause and a general knowledge of chemistry to develop a drug. Freshman year, I interned in an oncology lab where I remember one of their research projects in the works was developing a drug that would be given to patients after chemotherapy (I don’t remember much more about it). This is what initiated my interest in disease and its treatment. Ideally, after graduating, I would find a lab to work in for some time before continuing on to graduate school in the sciences. Biochemistry should be helpful should I decide to pursue research relating to the chemical basis of disease.