Biochemists are scientists who are trained in biochemistry. Typical biochemists study chemical processes and chemical transformations in living organisms. The prefix of “bio” in “biochemist” can be understood as a fusion of “biological chemist.”
In biochemistry, researchers often break down complicated biological systems into its component parts. About 75% work in either basic or applied research; those in applied research take the fruits of basic research and employ them for the benefit of medicine, agriculture, veterinary science, environmental science, and manufacturing. Each of these fields offers safe harbor for the biochemist in search of a specialty, with clinical biochemists, for example, working in hospital laboratories and studying various tissues and body fluids to help them understand and treat diseases; and industrial biochemists, for another, involved in analytical research work such as checking the purity of food and beverages.The most common “industry” role is to develop biochemical products and processes. This can be done by conducting in vitro research, analysis, synthesis and experimenting. Identifying substances’ chemical and physical properties in biological systems is of great importance, and can be carried out by doing various types of analysis’. Biochemists must also prepare technical reports after collecting, analyzing and summarizing the information and trends found.
Research biochemists may find work in the labs of biotechnology companies; agricultural, medical, and veterinary institutes; and, in the case of half of all biochemists, universities. They study chemical reactions in metabolism, growth, reproduction, and heredity and apply techniques drawn from biotechnology and genetic engineering to help them in their research.
The workday usually includes some laboratory duties, such as culturing, filtering, purifying, drying, weighing, and measuring substances using special instruments. Research goes to the study the effects of foods, drugs, allergens and other substances on living tissues. Many biochemists are also interested in molecular biology, the study of life at the molecular level and the study of genes and gene expression. In the lab, biochemists need to have experience working around diverse liquid and gaseous chemicals and must know to take appropriate precautionary measures. The word “chemistry” is in biochemistry because of the molecular focus of biochemistry. Understanding biochemistry requires important understanding of organic and inorganic chemistry.
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A typical laboratory processes several thousand samples per day. Of these, a few hundred results will be abnormal and need to be scrutinised by a clinical biochemist. Other work activities include:
- planning and organising work in clinical biochemistry laboratories, much of which is automated and computer assisted;
- performing clinical validation: checking abnormal results identified by automated analysers and deciding if further tests are necessary;
- carrying out complex biochemical analyses on specimens of body fluids and tissues, using spectrophotometry, mass spectroscopy, high performance chromatography, electrophoresis, immunoassay and, increasingly, molecular biological techniques;
- auditing the use and diagnostic performance of tests, as part of national and international quality assurance programmes;
- identifying the cause of and resolving any poor analytical performance problems;
- searching scientific literature for evidence of specificity and sensitivity of a diagnostic test;
- devising and conducting basic or applied research;
- writing reports, submitting funding bids and conducting research with clinical staff;
- liaising with clinical and technical staff, and contacting patients;
- training staff, reviewing the need for staff training, supervising MSc students, and giving lectures to medical undergraduates;
- attending and contributing to local and national scientific meetings and conferences;
- managing a clinical biochemical laboratory as career progresses.