The earliest forays into biochemistry in the modern era were conducted by Antoine-Laurent Lavoiser and Pierre-Simon Laplace more than 200 years ago. They proved that the law of conservation of matter applied to living as well as nonliving systems. By the early nineteenth century, pioneer biochemists had began the identification of the materials found in living cells. Baron Justus von Liebig recognized the presence of nitrogen in compounds that were later named proteins. The German chemist, Emil Fischer, traced the chemical structure of carbohydrates, which appear in nearly all plants and animals.
Other biologists and biochemists also discovered through religious biology jobs and research works a peculiar “enzyme,” which is a catalyst that appears naturally in yeast. A tremendous impetus to biochemistry was understanding the mechanics of the fermentation. This is a process that had been practiced for some 2,000 years. Biochemists have widened their searches in recent years to include the study of the composition of protein molecules and chromosomes that make up human life itself. They are on the threshold of synthesizing these elemental substances.
As to biotech job and employment, most biochemists are employed in the United States and work in the fields of medicine, biomedicine, nutrition, and agriculture. In medicine, they investigate the causes and cures of disease and methods of diagnosis. In biomedicine, they delve into genetics, brain function, and physiological adaptation. In nutrition, they examine the effects of food deficiencies on human performance, including the ability to learn. In agriculture, they undertake studies to discover more efficient methods of crop cultivation and storage and ways to control pests.
Biochemists’ principal tool in recent years has been the electron microscope, which permits them to examine molecular structures, but they also devise new instruments and analytical techniques as needed. About seven out of ten biochemists are engaged biotech jobs and pure research activities, often for a university medical school or nonprofit organization such a foundation or research institute. The remaining 30 percent do applied research, using the discoveries of basic research to solve practical problems or develop products. For example, the discovery of how a living organism forms hormones led to hormone synthesis in the laboratory and production on a mass scale. The distinction between basic and applied research is one of degree, however, biochemists often engage in both types of work.
At the very least, beginning biochemists require a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry or in chemistry, genetics, microbiology, or biology to qualify for jobs as research aides or technicians. Graduate training in biochemistry is a necessity, however, for positions in research and teaching and for advancement in all types of work. Some schools award a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, and all colleges and universities offer a major in biology or chemistry. Undergraduate courses include chemistry, biology, biochemistry, mathematics, physics, statistics, and computer science. Graduate study in biochemistry is intensive. To earn a master’s degree requires about two years of coursework and seminars relative to jobs in biotech, as well as an original laboratory research project. Candidates for a doctorate must engage in original research leading to new scientific findings and must write a formal thesis. Study for a doctorate generally takes about four years of engaging in bio technology jobs. Furthermore, the analytical, specialized nature of most biochemistry makes it unlikely that a student interested in the profession will gain much exposure to it before college. Many high-school chemistry and biology courses, however, allow students to work with laboratory tools and techniques, and many of the recent discoveries in genetics and molecular structures have been described in book form for aspiring biochemists.
With a job outlook seemingly similar to biology employment, Biochemists fresh from a college undergraduate program usually begin work in industry or government as a research assistants doing testing and analysis. In the drug industry, for example, they may analyze the ingredients of a product to verify and maintain its quality. Biochemists with a master’s degree may enter the field in positions in management, marketing or sales. Whereas, those with a doctorate degree often go into basic or applied research. Biochemists with a graduate degree have more opportunities for advancement than those with only an undergraduate degree. Some graduate students become research or teaching assistants in colleges and universities, qualifying for professorships when they receive their advanced degrees. Experienced biochemists who have doctorates can move up to high-level administrative positions and supervise research programs which may involve pharmaceutical biotech jobs.