What is Physical Biochemistry?

Instructor: Allyn Torres

Allyn has taught high school chemistry, and has a master's degree in curriculum and instruction.

In this lesson, you will learn about physical biochemistry. An overview of physical biochemistry will be given as well as a description of the job of a physical biochemist.

What Is Physical Biochemistry?

Have you ever seen a commercial for a medication that treats a specific disease or condition? The commercial typically shows a person who was once unhappy or very sick in the beginning of the commercial. After taking the drug the commercial is advertising, the person is shown smiling, happy, and possibly frolicking in a field. However, while those happy images are flashing across the screen, a narrator is typically reading a laundry list of side effects. It seems that this ''miracle drug'' being advertised just might cause more problems than it treats. Have you ever wondered who studies the effects of drugs on the body to determine what harm and good they do? This is the job of a physical biochemist. Keep reading to learn more about physical biochemistry.

Physical biochemistry is the study of the physical characteristics of macromolecules. Macromolecules are large molecules with complex structures. RNA and DNA are common examples of macromolecules. Glucose is another example of a macromolecule.

Glucose, a macromolecule
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Physical biochemistry involves the study of the structure of macromolecules in terms of the number of atoms they have, the arrangement of atoms, and the symmetry of the molecules. Monomers (building blocks) are the foundation of the structure of macromolecules. Monomers bond with other compounds to form macromolecules (these can also be called polymers). Macromolecule structures are very complex and contain four substructures:

  • The primary structure of a macromolecule describes the order of the atoms that make up the macromolecule.
  • The secondary structure describes the placement of the monomers within the macromolecule.
  • The tertiary structure describes the 3D structure of the folds in the molecule.
  • The quaternary structure describes the arrangement of the many polymers in the macromolecule in relation to each other.

What Do Physical Biochemists Do?

As discussed above, physical biochemistry heavily focuses on macromolecules. Physical biochemists study the reactions that macromolecules participate in within the body. For example, physical biochemists study the breakdown of the structure of macromolecules during digestion in the stomach. They study how enzymes in the mouth and digestive system break the bonds in glucose to break down the macromolecule.

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