How the Environment Affects the Biochemistry of Living Things

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  • 0:00 The Environment
  • 0:54 Medicines
  • 2:22 The Sun
  • 3:24 Toxins
  • 4:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yuanxin (Amy) Yang Alcocer

Amy has a master's degree in secondary education and has taught math at a public charter high school.

Watch this video lesson to learn how the sun, medicines, and toxins can affect living things. Learn how living things, including us humans, can react positively or even be harmed by these environmental things.

The Environment

You might have heard the phrase, 'you are what you eat.' Biochemists have found that this phrase is fairly accurate. What you take in, no matter how you take it in, affects you for better or for worse. The environment in which you live plays a big role.

The environment covers everything from what you eat to what you are exposed to. Environment affects all the living things in it, not just us humans. Biochemists are right now studying how living things react to different things in their environment. Biochemists don't just look at the visible effects; they look deeper. They look at changes at the molecular level. This is how biochemists can tell you whether a certain medical drug will work or not. They look at the drug's effect at the cellular level to see if the drug is affecting the cell as it should. Let's take a closer look.


All of us have taken medicines at some point in our lives. Some of us rely on our medicines to keep on living. This is because, if we weren't taking medicines, then our cells in our bodies can't function properly. For example, allergy medicines allow us to function better throughout the day. If we didn't take allergy medicines, our brain might be foggy or we might be sneezing all day. Allergy medicines work by affecting how our body responds to allergens. When we don't take allergy medicines, the cells in our nose produce more mucus when we breathe in things that we are allergic to. If we are allergic to cat hair, for example, when we breathe in cat hairs, our nose cells react by producing more mucus to try to block the cat hair from going any further. The cells in your nose also tell you to sneeze to try to get the cat hair out. When you take allergy medicines, the medicines tell your nose cells not to produce extra mucus and not to sneeze. All of this happens at the cellular level. The medicines target the specific cells that are responsible for our allergy issues, and it tells the cell to stop reacting to the things that we are allergic to.

It's not just us humans that react this way to medicines. All living things react similarly to medicines. Dogs and cats are sometimes given the same medicines for the same conditions that we have. When a dog has a cold, we will give the dog cold medicine. If our cat is allergic to something, we will give the cat allergy medicines.

The Sun

Another thing that affects all living things is the sun. Sometimes, this is a good effect; at other times, it is a negative effect. For us, when our skin is exposed to the sun, the cells in our skin begin to produce more melanin. Melanin is what makes our skin darker. When our skin is okay with the sun, then our skin begins to tan. When the sun is too much for our skin though, we get sunburned. This is when our skin turns bright red and begins to hurt. This is a negative effect of the sun. Too much sun can also cause our skin cells to turn cancerous, resulting in skin cancer. All of these effects, from the melanin to the skin cancer, are the result of changes in the cells of the skin when exposed to sunlight.

The sun has the same effect on all other living things as well. Pigs roll in the mud to protect their skin from the sun. A pig's skin is sensitive to the sun just like ours. Pigs get sunburn just like us, and it hurts them just like it hurts us. So since they don't have sunblock, they roll in dirt.

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