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From earwax to athlete's foot, every biological element in the environment is made up of chemicals. Biochemists work to understand the complex chemistry of life. Applying chemical and biological principles, biochemists study the chemical composition of living matter and the molecular basis for processes that occur in cells. They analyze chemical combinations and reactions involved in metabolism, reproduction, growth and heredity. Biochemists have to know about cells and organs and how they function, the roles of hormones and enzymes in living things and the effects of poisons and minerals on living things, and experimental and research methods.

Concerned with the large-scale culture of living cells in fermentation processes, they develop medical, agricultural, food science, pharmacological, industrial, environmental and other practical applications. Biochemists analyze kidney, liver and thyroid functions, assist in the diagnosis of heart attacks, check glucose levels in diabetics and monitor cholesterol levels in patients with cardiovascular disease.

Biochemists conduct research, develop new or improved products and processes, and test and evaluate the quality and safety of materials. Biochemical research has led to the discovery and development of new and improved synthetic fibers, paints, adhesives, drugs, cosmetics, electronic components, lubricants and thousands of other products. Those working for pharmaceutical companies create new medications and improve existing ones. One of the most important functions is testing the potential side effects of drugs and knowing what the drugs do not mix with. Since most modern drugs come attached with harmful side effects, it is important that biochemists know what they are and make the drug companies and the public aware of them before taking any new medications.

As biochemistry is the mix between biology and chemistry, these scientists get to study how living things work at the molecular level. Some areas they may specialize in are reproduction, photosynthesis and energy respiration, and metabolism. They may also study body and muscle contractions, gene development and biochemical stresses. They usually study organic chemistry working to either create new medicines or study DNA and the human make-up in relation to the chemicals it interacts with.

Biochemists also develop processes that save energy and reduce pollution, such as improved oil refining and petrochemical processing methods. Biochemists also work in production and quality control in manufacturing plants, preparing instructions for plant workers that specify ingredients, mixing times, and temperatures for each stage in the process. They also monitor automated processes to ensure proper product yield, and test samples of raw materials or finished products to ensure that they meet industry and government standards, including the regulations governing pollution. Biochemists report and document test results and analyze those results in hopes of further improving existing theories or developing new test methods.

Biochemists often work in interdisciplinary teams with physiologists, pharmacologists, plant biologists, microbiologists, chemists, agronomists and other professionals. They often supervise technicians and technologists during laboratory research. They may be found in offices, writing reports on the experiments they conduct or doing research about other related scientific studies.
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  Average Earnings  
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Median Salary:
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  Interests and Skills  
Biochemists must have a curiosity and imagination about biology and chemistry and an affinity for mathematics and science. They must have strong perseverance and be willing to work long hours. They have excellent problem-solving skills and good communication skills, both written and oral.

They must be willing to keep up to date on new developments and discoveries and continually seek innovative solutions to their experimentation. Successful biochemists must enjoy synthesizing information, using scientific equipment and instruments to perform tasks requiring precision, and coordinating and supervising the work of others.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Study the chemical make-up of living things
  • Learn about the effects of diseases, foods and chemicals on living things
  • Study the chemistry of cellular processes such as metabolism, growth and ageing
  • Analyze the neurochemistry of the brain
  • Isolate, identify and synthesize vitamins, DNA, hormones, enzymes and other proteins
  • Determine the three-dimensional structure of biological macromolecules
  • Study the molecular basis of how the immune system functions
  • Study the mutations in organisms that lead to cancer and other diseases
  • Study the way cells store and express genetic information
  • Conduct research in genetic engineering
  • Use recombinant DNA technology to produce pharmaceutically and industrially useful proteins
  • Write reports on experiments
  • Develop and test new products, such as vaccines and medicines
  • May lecture and supervise research students
  • Biochemists work in offices and laboratories. When experiments do not fit into a normal eight-hour workday, they may be required to work evenings and weekends. They must observe safety precautions when working with contaminants such as viruses or other biohazards.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Biochemists work for governments, universities and medical schools, biotechnical companies, manufacturing companies, petrochemical companies, pharmaceutical companies, private consulting companies, and companies in the oil, cosmetics, food and beverage, and environmental industries.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Biochemists who have PhDs usually undergo at least two years of post-doctoral research training before they are considered eligible for positions in academic institutions, industrial research laboratories or governmental agencies. Those who have bachelor's or master's degrees usually work as technicians or laboratory assistants under the supervision of more experienced biochemists. Some biochemistry graduates work in sales for biotechnology and pharmaceutical firms. Some may also decide to become scientific writers and work for scientific journals or related magazines.

  Educational Paths  
Most biochemists begin their postsecondary education by completing a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry or a related science such as chemistry, biology, physics, microbiology, physiology, pharmacology or genetics. Independent investigators who want to do research or teach at a university level must obtain a master's or PhD in biochemistry.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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