Let us make an in-depth study of the scope and importance of biochemistry. After reading this article you will learn about the two categories of elements that form life: 1. Major Elements and 2. Minor Elements.
Biochemistry is the answer to an innocent mind questioning itself as to—What is life? What is growth? What is maturity? What is a disease? And finally, what is death? In short, answers to two of these most important questions can be cited here.
What is life?
Life is an organized state of a few elements.
What is Death?
Death is a state of disorganization of these elements. It is said that man is made out of mud and there are about 93 elements in the mud or the earth’s crust. Among these many elements, only a few of them arrange in a specific order to give rise to life. Any disorder in these elements results in a disease which may lead to death.
Therefore, Biochemistry is the study of elements which make life and the fashion in which they are arranged. It also explains the functioning of these elements which trigger and continue the process of life. The extent of de-arrangement of the life making elements, may either lead to disease or cause death.
Medical professionals undertake Biochemistry in order to deal specifically with different methodologies of prevention and rectification of various disorders thus bringing back the body to function normally thereby helping in leading a healthy life and delaying the process of death.
Human body is made up of myriad of molecules (union of elements).
What are these molecules?
What are their properties and characteristics?
How are they, aligned with each other to make possible the living state?
In this article we will study the molecules forming the living matter and correlation of biological function with the molecular structure. From its study, Biochemistry has come to the conclusion that, matter in an appropriate physicochemical state of organization acquires the traits of living substances.
Let us now list out exactly those elements that form life. The elements that give rise to life can be grouped into two categories:
1. Major Elements:
The elements which are found in large quantities in the human body are major elements. They include—carbon (C), hydrogen (H), oxygen (O), nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), sulphur (S) and calcium (Ca).
2. Minor Elements:
The elements which are found in lesser quantities in the human body are minor- elements.
They are further classified into two groups:
They include the elements that are present in relatively appreciable amounts in the body, viz., iron (Fe), sodium (Na) and potassium (K).
They include the elements that are present in minute quantities in the body, viz., cobalt (Co), copper (Cu), magnesium (Mg), manganese (Mn), arsenic (As), lead (Pb) and iodine (I).
These elements combine in different ratios and proportions to make a molecule. For instance C, H, and O combine in 1:2:1 ratio to make carbohydrates. Similarly, C, H, O and N combine to form proteins and lipids. Nucleic acids are the result of combination of C, H, O, N and P. Carbohydrates, proteins, lipids and nucleic acids, grouped under a category called macromolecules, form the basic components that make life possible.
In addition to these molecules there are micro-molecules like hormones, vitamins and minerals that also play a vital role in the process of life. Among the macromolecules, proteins and nucleic acids are known as informational macromolecules and the other two, viz., carbohydrates, lipids are non-informational macromolecules. The areas of study of Biochemistry are the study of structure of these molecules, their properties, their functions, their inter-relationship and their metabolism.
In order to study these characters it becomes necessary to isolate them, separate them, purify them and bring them into a suitable form so that it can easily be analysed and characterized. Hence, Biochemistry also deals with methods and techniques to isolate, purify and characterize various compounds.
Biochemistry deals not only at the molecular level but also at the level of the cell. A cell can suitably be defined as the theatre of life, where each and every artist (molecules) play their role (functions) exactly as the director (DNA) wants, and the director directs exactly as that appreciated and enjoyed by the audience (cell organelles).
Biochemistry has proved that the above cooperation exists well for normal functioning of a cell and thereby of a living organism. A little misunderstanding between them leads to disturbances in the cell and finally may lead to death of the living organism.
The main purpose of all the efforts of Biochemistry is to benefit humans in all forms, particularly in diagnosis and treatment of various diseases. For example, measurement of serum levels of isoenzymes helps in the diagnosis and degree of various tissue disorders.
Lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) has five isoenzyme forms, of which LDH1 and LDH2 levels in the serum increase following a myocardial infarction (heart attack). Due to the knowledge of enzyme inhibition, it has become possible to treat various diseases. Some bacteria do not require preformed folic acid (a vitamin for humans) as growth factor because they can make it if P-amino benzoic acid (PABA), one of the components of folic acid, is available.
Thus PABA is a vitamin for these bacteria. If sulphanilamide is administered, it competes with PABA in the enzymatic synthesis of folic acid due to its structural similarity and inhibits the growth of pathogenic bacteria requiring PABA. Likewise, allopurinol, a drug, is used to treat Gout, a disease of the joints, where there is an abnormal accumulation of uric acid crystals. Allopurinol competitively inhibits xanthine oxidase, the enzyme responsible for converting purines into uric acid.
Investigations of diabetes mellitus are completely based upon the laboratory tests in Biochemistry labs, where the presence of sugar in urine is tested by Benedict’s test. Similarly, investigation of other disorders like albuminuria, lactosuria, etc. are carried out here.
Due to the recent knowledge of cell receptors for various substances it has become possible to treat hormonal disorders and to kill cancerous cells without affecting other cells. Toxic substances are encapsulated in membranous cells having complimentary surface receptors to that of cancerous cells. These capsulated cells when injected get attached to the cancerous cells due to their complementarity and release the toxic substances into the cancerous cells destroying them.
The technique of enzyme immobilization has helped in the treatment of various in born errors of metabolism. The most recent advancement in the technique of “gene manipulation” has helped in the large scale, artificial synthesis of peptide hormones like insulin and synthesis of enzymes making the use of microorganism.
Hence it can be concluded that Biochemistry is the tool to make diagnosis of certain diseases. The scope of Biochemistry is as vast as the sky. It is not limited to a particular aspect. There is no end to Biochemistry research, it is growing and growing thousand times, as fast as a malignant tumour.