1.2 Information for instructors

Biochemistry and molecular biology represent one of the fastest-growing fields of scientific research and technical innovation, and the resulting biotechnology is increasingly applied to other fields of study. So, an understanding of biochemistry and molecular biology (we use these terms largely interchangeably here) is critically important for students in all biological disciplines. However, at the same time, the content is inherently complex, highly abstract, and often deeply rooted in the pure sciences – mathematics, chemistry, and physics. This makes it difficult to learn and to teach.

Due to the rapid pace of change and accumulation of knowledge in biochemistry it is conceded that it is impossible to cover content exhaustively. Therefore, decisions must be made regarding which information is crucial to the study of biochemistry and which information can be omitted. In response to this, several studies have been undertaken to identify the key foundational concepts and skills required by majors in the discipline. Our experience in teaching biochemistry is consistent with others in that many students fail to grasp these concepts early. This presents a major barrier to learning, progressing in the discipline, and attaining the requisite skills. Almost always, the barriers to learning are misconceptions related to understanding key threshold concepts.

Threshold concepts have been identified in numerous disciplines and while often they are relatively few, mastering them causes a transformative shift in a student’s understanding and appreciation of that field and empowers students to connect prior and new knowledge in more sophisticated ways. Threshold concepts are partly defined by their transformative nature but also by their ‘troublesome’ nature. In 2014, a study[1] funded by the American National Science Foundation identified the key threshold concepts critical for biochemistry in five major areas:

  1. The central importance of the theory of evolution to all biological sciences
  2. Matter and energy transformation
  3. Homeostasis, control and regulation
  4. Biological information
  5. Macromolecular structure and function

A key barrier to understanding these concepts is their abstract nature. This resource attempts to lower this barrier through careful explanation of domain-specific language using vocabulary students already understand, by using visualisations and metaphors of complex concepts and by applying knowledge checks in which students can check their understanding. Students will also be able to apply their newly acquired conceptual understanding to novel problems with access to worked solutions.

This e-book is designed as a succinct and focused resource, specifically aimed at helping students grasp key threshold concepts in biochemistry – a cognitively demanding task. By focusing on the specific information required to understand the threshold concept and minimising extraneous detail, our intention is that cognitive load will be reduced. This will free students to focus on mastering the foundational concepts necessary in this discipline.

  1. Loertscher, J., Green, D., Lewis, J., Lin, S., & Minderhout, V. (2014). Identification of threshold concepts for biochemistry. CBE Life Sciences Education, 13(3), 516–528.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

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.

Share This Book