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Alexander American University
School of Medicine

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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.

Much of biochemistry deals with the structures, functions and interactions of biological macromolecules, such as proteins, nucleic acids, carbohydrates and lipids, which provide the structure of cells and perform many of the functions associated with life. The chemistry of the cell also depends on the reactions of smaller molecules and ions. These can be inorganic, for example water and metal ions, or organic, for example the amino acids, which are used to synthesize proteins. The mechanisms by which cells harness energy from their environment via chemical reactions are known as metabolism. The findings of biochemistry are applied primarily in medicine, nutrition, and agriculture. In medicine, biochemists investigate the causes and cures of diseases. In nutrition, they study how to maintain health and study the effects of nutritional deficiencies. In agriculture, biochemists investigate soil and fertilizers, and try to discover ways to improve crop cultivation, crop storage and pest control.

Research in the Department of Biochemistry encompasses very diverse questions and uses a wide variety of approaches, experimental systems, and techniques. Nevertheless, what bonds us is an interest in understanding fundamental biological questions at the level of how molecules act and interact to accomplish highly complex, intra- and intercellular processes.

Two features about our Department are especially noteworthy. First, we share all of our space and major equipment. Thus, students and postdocs from different groups are intermixed. This enhances interactions at all levels and guarantees equality in terms of access to all resources and equipment. Second, we work hard to maintain a collegial, cooperative and supportive environment. All faculty are engaged in the operation and mission of the Department and share and uphold philosophies of operation and community spirit that we hold dear.

Our diversity enriches our intellectual environment and provides an incredibly broad spectrum of expertise that benefits all of us, as we tackle a wide variety of important questions. All of us study molecules: we use and advance physical techniques such as spectroscopy, laser light traps and crystallography, cell biological techniques such as light microscopy and cell fractionation, biochemical techniques such as enzyme purification and high throughput cross-linking/mapping, and computational techniques including machine learning, interactive simulation, and crowdsourcing, along with cutting edge molecular biological techniques and genetics. By attacking problems using these complementary approaches, we are best suited to pave the way towards solving the questions at hand. Many of the techniques invented here, including genetic engineering and high-throughput RNA expression analysis, are fueling current advances in biotechnology and medicine.