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Principles of Biochemistry

This introduction to biochemistry explores the molecules of life, starting at simple building blocks and culminating in complex metabolism.

Start Date: Sep 12, 2016
Duration: 8 weeks
Price: $495

Course Description

All HarvardXPLUS courses are taught by Harvard faculty members. Small cohorts enable a high level of peer-to-peer learning and engagement. Learners who successfully complete the course will earn a HarvardXPLUS branded credential.

Principles of Biochemistry integrates an introduction to the structure of macromolecules and a biochemical approach to cellular function. Topics addressing protein function will include enzyme kinetics, the characterization of major metabolic pathways and their interconnection into tightly regulated networks, and the manipulation of enzymes and pathways with mutations or drugs. An exploration of simple cells (red blood cells) to more complex tissues (muscle and liver) will be used as a framework to discuss the progression in metabolic complexity. Learners will also develop problem solving and analytical skills that are more generally applicable to the life sciences.

Image credit: PDB ID 2DN1, 2DN2

Park S-Y, Yokoyama T, Shibayama N, Shiro Y, Tame JRH (2006) 1.25 A resolution crystal structures of human haemoglobin in the oxy, deoxy and carbonmonoxy forms. J Mol Biol 360: 690–701.

What You'll Learn

  • The structure and function of the chemical building blocks of life
  • The central role of enzymes in catalyzing the reactions of life
  • The primary metabolic pathways that power cells
  • The intricate mechanisms that regulate cellular metabolism
  • The integration of biochemical processes in the context of cells, tissues, and whole organisms


Alain Viel

Alain Viel Senior Lecturer

Rachelle Gaudet

Rachelle Gaudet Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology


Introduction to Biochemistry


Objectives: Students should be able to

  • Explain how the chemical properties of carbon explain the structural diversity of organic molecules
  • Predict the evolution of a biochemical reaction
  • Determine the factors driving the equilibrium, directionality and spontaneity of biochemical reactions
  • Understand how matter and energy flow between living systems
  • Learn the classification of living organisms based on their abilities to extract and transform external sources of energy into usable chemical energy

Structural Biochemistry

Protein structure

Objectives: Students should be able to

  • Draw the chemical structure of each of the 20 natural amino acids
  • Describe the three basic building blocks of protein structure (α-helix, β-sheet and loop)
  • Describe the forces and interactions that promote protein folding
  • Evaluate, based on their knowledge of protein structure, whether a given protein structure model is likely to represent a native physiological protein structure.
  • Make predictions about the effect of mutations on protein structure

Enzyme catalysis

Enzyme kinetics

Objectives: Students should be able to

  • Explain how the interaction between enzyme and substrate affect the velocity of a reaction
  • Apply the fundamental principles of Michaelis-Menten enzyme kinetics
  • Predict the mode of action and the impact of different classes of inhibitors on enzyme kinetics
  • Understand the kinetics of enzymes acting on several substrates
  • Design mutations hypothesized to affect different enzyme kinetic parameters

Lipid structure and membrane assembly

Objectives: Students should be able to

  • Explain the assembly of fatty acids into structural lipids
  • Describe the chemical and physical properties of lipids and how they lead to the assembly of biological membranes
  • Make predictions about the impact of changes in lipid structure and composition on properties of membranes
  • Describe the types of interactions between proteins and membranes
  • Summarize the roles of membrane-associated proteins on membrane properties

Carbohydrate structure

Objectives: Students should be able to

  • Recall the classification and the structure of monosaccharides
  • Explain the structural reason behind the central role of glucose
  • Understand how the chemical structure of monosaccharide leads to the formation of complex and branched carbohydrates
  • Describe structural and functional properties of extracellular carbohydrates

Cellular Bioenergetics


Unique features of glycolysis in red blood cells

Objectives: Students should be able to

  • Recall the steps of ATP synthesis by glycolysis
  • Explain the contribution of fermentation to glycolysis
  • Describe how glycolytic intermediates impact oxygen binding, and protect red blood cells against reactive oxygen species

Bacterial energetics

Objectives: Students should be able to

  • Predict the biochemical impact of linear and branched fermentation pathways
  • Explain the metabolic switches in bacteria exposed to changes in their environments
  • Contrast and compare aerobic and anaerobic respiration
  • Describe the processing of complex and simple dietary carbohydrates
  • Compare the biochemical transformations of the simple sugars feeding the glycolytic pathway

The citric acid cycle

Electron transport

ATP synthesis

Objectives: Students should be able to

  • Describe the production of reduced electron carrier during the citric acid cycle
  • Describe each steps of the production of ATP by oxidative phosphorylation
  • Correlate the number of ATP molecules produced with the point of entry of electrons in the electron transport chain
  • To compare the yield of ATP synthesis by substrate level phosphorylation and oxidative phosphorylation

Muscle metabolism

Objectives: Students should be able to

  • Describe the metabolic adaptations of muscle that enable it to rapidly generate ATP for mobility
  • Differentiate between metabolism in cardiac and skeletal muscle
  • Recall how the body and muscle adapt to physical challenges of different durations

Regulation of glycolysis in liver cells

Regulation of blood sugar by the liver

Objectives: Students should be able to

  • Explain the role of allosteric enzymes as valves controlling the flux of intermediates in a pathway
  • Determine how transient covalent modification affects enzymes controlling key steps in metabolic pathways
  • Explain the hormonal regulation of metabolic pathways
  • Predict how changes in blood glucose level affect the biochemical and hormonal regulations of metabolic pathways including glycolysis, gluconeogenesis, glycogen synthesis and, glycogen degradation
  • Recall the different steps of the pentose phosphate pathway and its role

Nucleic acid metabolism

Objectives: Students should be able to

  • Compare the synthesis of purines and pyrimidines
  • Compare the recycling and degradation pathway of nucleotides
  • Recall the different steps of the urea cycle
  • Describe the metabolic basis and treatment of gout

Fatty acid metabolism

Objectives: Students should be able to

  • Demonstrate how fatty acid synthase catalysis leads to the production of fatty acids with an even number of carbons
  • Predict the energy inputs and energy yield of fatty acid anabolism and catabolism


HarvardXPLUS is online learning reimagined, with you in mind. All HarvardXPLUS courses are taught by Harvard faculty members. Smaller cohorts enable a higher level of peer-to-peer learning and increased engagement with faculty and teaching assistants. Learners who successfully complete the course will earn a unique and valuable HarvardXPLUS branded credential highlighting the skills and knowledge mastered in the course.


This is the equivalent of an upper level undergraduate course. You may find that it is challenging. It covers the equivalent of one semester of biochemistry. We consider college level chemistry and biology to be prerequisites for this course.


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Fall 2016

HarvardXPLUS Credential, Principles of Biochemistry

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