1.1 Introduction

This e-book is designed to be a relatively succinct resource for learning the key threshold concepts in biochemistry and molecular biology. Since these key concepts underpin everything in biology, this resource is designed for any students beginning a tertiary course related to biology, not just those who are focused on biochemistry or molecular biology. It is also useful for students who may be coming back to study after a hiatus and need to refresh their understanding of concepts or for anyone who wants a reasonably quick primer on biology at the molecular level. This e-book is not designed to be a replacement for traditional textbooks but rather this text focuses on the key threshold concepts agreed by experts in this discipline to be particularly important for establishing a solid foundation. These concepts are by their nature ones which many students tend to find initially difficult and problematic but, as the name ‘threshold concepts’ implies, once understood will provide a gateway for further understanding the discipline.

Overview of the contents

Chapter 2 makes a case for all biologists to have a fundamental literacy of life at the molecular level, and we provide some advice (based on hard-won experience!) on how to effectively study this discipline. We provide an overview of what biochemistry and molecular biology are and how they came to be. The story of their development provides a way to gain an overview of the discipline. The ‘black boxes’ in understanding of the early pioneers mirror the black boxes that all students must draw around unfamiliar concepts and their relationships as they learn them for the first time.

In Chapter 3, we define life itself at the molecular level, concentrating on what all life on Earth has in common, from the smallest microorganisms through to complex multicellular organisms like us.

Subsequently, each chapter tackles an overarching threshold concept. In turn we focus on:

Chapter 4: The flow of genetic information in living systems

Chapter 5: How matter and energy are transformed in living systems

Chapter 6: How cells control and regulate their internal environments

Chapter 7: How structure is related to function at the molecular level

Chapter 8: The importance of the theory of evolution to understanding biology at the molecular level

Navigating the material

The overarching threshold concepts are broken down into smaller threshold concepts. You will recognise these by the doorway icon alongside them. Learning these and replacing prior misconceptions will open the door to greater overall understanding.

Work through the material actively – take notes and check your understanding at every opportunity. Wherever you see the knowledge check icon there will be some limited choice or short-answer questions to test your vocabulary or fundamental understanding.

Wherever you see the discussion question icon, there will be some questions probing your deeper understanding of the topic. These will require more thought and ask you to apply your knowledge to a complex problem. These can make good questions to discuss collaboratively with peers, tutors, study groups and so on.

We hope that once you understand these threshold concepts in biochemistry and molecular biology you will be inspired to continue learning more!

Australia and New Zealand in focus

Wherever you see the Australia and New Zealand in focus icon we will highlight the contributions made to this discipline by researchers from Australia and New Zealand or how Australia and New Zealand contribute a unique perspective to the discipline.

You should not only feel proud and inspired by these historical contributions but also by the current research occurring in Australia and New Zealand. Our biochemistry and molecular biology communities rank amongst the world’s best in terms of the number and quality of publications per head of population and our research facilities are world-class. We sincerely hope this specific focus allows you to recognise the opportunities this discipline can provide to you and the importance to our society as a whole.


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Threshold Concepts in Biochemistry Copyright © 2023 by La Trobe University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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