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After studying this chapter, you should be able to:

  • Understand the importance of the ability of cell-free extracts of yeast to ferment sugars, an observation that enabled discovery of the intermediates of fermentation, glycolysis, and other metabolic pathways.

  • Appreciate the scope of biochemistry and its central role in the life sciences, and that biochemistry and medicine are intimately related disciplines.

  • Appreciate that biochemistry integrates knowledge of the chemical processes in living cells with strategies to maintain health, understand disease, identify potential therapies, and enhance our understanding of the origins of life on earth.

  • Describe how genetic approaches have been critical for elucidating many areas of biochemistry, and how the Human Genome Project has furthered advances in numerous aspects of biology and medicine.


Biochemistry and medicine enjoy a mutually cooperative relationship. Biochemical studies have illuminated many aspects of health and disease, and the study of various aspects of health and disease has opened up new areas of biochemistry. The medical relevance of biochemistry both in normal and abnormal situations is emphasized throughout this book. Biochemistry makes significant contributions to the fields of cell biology, physiology, immunology, microbiology, pharmacology, toxicology, and epidemiology, as well as the fields of inflammation, cell injury, and cancer. These close relationships emphasize that life, as we know it, depends on biochemical reactions and processes.


Although the ability of yeast to “ferment” various sugars to ethyl alcohol has been known for millennia, only comparatively recently did this process initiate the science of biochemistry. The great French microbiologist Louis Pasteur maintained that fermentation could only occur in intact cells. However, in 1899, the brothers Büchner discovered that fermentation could occur in the absence of intact cells when they stored a yeast extract in a crock of concentrated sugar solution, added as a preservative. Overnight, the contents of the crock fermented, spilled over the laboratory bench and floor, and dramatically demonstrated that fermentation can proceed in the absence of an intact cell. This discovery unleashed an avalanche of research that initiated the science of biochemistry. Investigations revealed the vital roles of inorganic phosphate, ADP, ATP, and NAD(H), and ultimately identified the phosphorylated sugars and the chemical reactions and enzymes that convert glucose to pyruvate (glycolysis) or to ethanol and CO2 (fermentation). Research beginning in the 1930s identified the intermediates of the citric acid cycle and of urea biosynthesis, and revealed the essential roles of certain vitamin-derived cofactors or “coenzymes” such as thiamin pyrophosphate, riboflavin, and ultimately coenzyme A, coenzyme Q, and cobamide coenzyme. The 1950s revealed how complex carbohydrates are synthesized from, and broken down into simple sugars, and the pathways for biosynthesis of pentoses, and the catabolism of amino acids and fatty acids.

Investigators employed animal models, perfused intact organs, tissue slices, cell homogenates and their subfractions, ...

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