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Biochemistry I (Plants)

Course CodeBSC102
Fee CodeS2
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment


Thylakoid Membrane.Biochemistry is the chemistry of living things. This course focuses on the biochemistry of plants, rather than animals or humans; though much of what is studied will relate to all types of living things. Our Problem Based Approach for learning makes the learning experience practical and applied, helping you to understand, absorb and retain your new knowledge.

Lessons cover: Biochemical substances and terms, carbohydrates, lipids, amino acids, proteins, metabolism, the nitrogen cycle, photosynthesis, respiration, transpiration, acidity and alkalinity, nutrition, hormones, chemical analysis and biochemical applications in industry.

Student Comment: 'Having not finished high school myself and never studied biochemistry my confidence is a little low but the encouragement I am receiving from Honor [tutor] is a tremendous help and making it easier for me as I go. [The course] is helping me realize what I am actually capable of and that I am smarter than I thought. Thank you for making it possible for me to study my passion while still being able to work.' Melissa Smith, Australia, Biochemistry I.

Course Prerequisites: Some secondary school chemistry will be helpful though it is not essential.

Lesson Structure

There are 9 lessons in this course:

  1. Introduction
  2. Lipids and Proteins
  3. Enzymes
  4. Nitrogen and the Nitrogen Cycle
  5. Photosynthesis and Respiration
  6. Assimilation and Transpiration
  7. Acidity and Alkalinity
  8. Chemical Analysis
  9. Biochemical Applications

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.


  • Identify characteristics of common chemical compounds important in plant biochemistry.
  • Explain the characteristics of major biochemical groups including; carbohydrates, lipids and proteins.
  • Explain the characteristics of chemicals which control biological processes, including enzymes and hormones.
  • Identify the role of nitrogen in plant biological processes, including the nitrogen cycle.
  • Identify the role of photosynthesis in biological systems.
  • Explain the role of respiration in plants.
  • Explain characteristics of assimilation and transpiration in plants.
  • Explain the effect of acidity and alkalinity on biochemical systems.
  • Develop simple chemical analysis skills relevant to testing plants and soils.
  • Identify applications and uses for biochemical processes and products.

What You Will Do

  • Explain the formulae of ten specified, chemical compounds commonly found in plants
  • Calculate the percentages of elements contained in two specified chemical compounds
  • Differentiate between characteristics of major groups of biochemicals
  • Compare differences between monosaccharides and polysaccharides
  • Differentiate between a fat and an oil
  • Explain the characteristics of a specified protein formula
  • Compare two fibrous proteins with two globular proteins
  • Explain the functions of carbohydrates in plants
  • Explain how one specific enzyme functions in a living organism
  • Explain how one specific hormone functions in a living organism
  • Compare differences in nitrogen deficiency symptoms in monocotyledons and dicotyledons
  • Analyse the nitrogen cycle with diagrams
  • Perform an experiment comparing the growth of 4 plants grown under differing light conditions
  • Explain the processes of photosynthesis, with diagrams
  • Identify the differences between anaerobic and aerobic respiration
  • Explain glycolysis, including the sequence of chemical reactions which take place
  • Explain the Krebs cycle, including the sequence of chemical reactions involved.
  • Compare respiration in a plant with respiration in an animal
  • Perform, a simple experiment, showing the movement of dyed water into and through a plant
  • Explain how nutrients are moved about in a plant
  • Define pH terminology including; acid, alkaline, base and neutral
  • Explain plant responses to changes in soil pH
  • Analyse the effects of three different fertilizers on the pH of growing media.
  • Explain the effects of abnormal pH levels in a specific case study of a physiological process, in a living organism.
  • Identify factors involved in controlling acidity and alkalinity in a specific case study.
  • Differentiate between chemical toxicity and tolerance.
  • Explain the implications of LD50 characteristics with five different chemical substances.
  • List the active toxins in ten poisonous plants which commonly occur in your home locality.
  • Explain the effects of two naturally occurring toxins on the human body.
  • Determine three different applications for plant tissue culture.

This course doesn't make you a chemist; but is designed to allow you a better understanding of the chemicals that occur in plants. If you wish to work with and understand plant growth and the needs of plants; you need to understand the fundamentals of plant biochemistry; at least to a level covered in this course.

Everything from plant tissues to fertilizers and pesticides, are made up of chemicals. Understanding chemicals allows to to fertilize and water plants better, use agricultural chemicals more appropriately; and better appreciate how and why a plant grows, stops growing, and lives or dies. 


A Quick Catch Up - If You Haven't Studied Chemistry Before

Atoms are the fundamental building blocks of our world. Understanding what atoms are, is the starting point for understanding biochemistry.

There are 103 different kinds of atoms known to man, of which some 92 occur naturally; the very large number of different substances in and on our planet are all aggregates of atoms arranged in an almost endless variety of ways.

The atomic theory of matter proposes that all matter is composed of aggregates of very large numbers of small particles called atoms. These are extremely small and are indivisible by ordinary chemical means.


The Structure of Atoms

The atoms may be pictured as consisting of a very small, positively charged nucleus, surrounded by a number of negatively charged electrons. The charge on the nucleus of an atom is characteristic for each element and is always a multiple of a fundamental unit of charge, viz. 1.60206 x 10 to the power of minus 19 coulomb.  For example, the charge on the sodium nucleus is + 17.62266 x 10 to the power of minus 19 coulomb, which is just 11 times the fundamental unit of charge.  Since the atom is electrically neutral the collective charge of the surrounding electrons is  17.62266 x 10 to the power of minus 19 coulomb, which is again just 11 times the fundamental unit of charge, but opposite in sign to the nuclear charge.

The radius of an atom may be determined experimentally and is found to be of the order of 10 to the power of minus 8 cm, whilst the radius of the nucleus is of the order of 10 to the power of minus 13 cm.  Clearly the electrons occupy most of the volume of the atom.



  • All matter is made up of atoms.
  • An atom is like a microscopic solar system, composed of a centre like the sun (called the nucleus, which contains a characteristic number of particles called protons and neutrons), and other parts which orbit around the centre (called electrons). 
  • The particles which make up an atom can have electrical charges. Electrons have a negative charge, and protons have a positive charge.
  • If the amount of positive and negative charge is balanced, the atom as a whole is neutral (i.e. the negative and positive cancel out the effect of each other).
  • If an atom has no charge (i.e. is neutral) it appears stable, but in fact there are other factors that can also influence its stability (i.e. chemical stability is a measure of the tendency of an atom or group of atoms to resist change).
  • Electrons can actually be moved from one atom to another (i.e. changing the nucleus which they orbit around). If this happens, the atoms involved can become negatively or positively charged.
  • When an atom develops a charge, an ionic bond can develop (i.e. a positively charged atom will always be attracted to a negatively charged atom, and the bond between them is called an ionic bond).
  • If two atoms get together and share electrons, the bond between them is called a covalent bond.
  • When electrons are transferred from one atom to another, the bond involved is an ionic bond.
  • When electrons are shared around the 2 nuclei of 2 atoms, the bond involved is a covalent bond.
  • A group of two or more atoms covalently bonded together is called a molecule. The atoms in a molecule are held together by bonds. Some elements (e.g. oxygen) do not normally exist as single atoms; but they do exist as molecules.
  • Such groups of atoms can also lose, gain or share atoms. 
  • Atoms or molecules with a charge are called ions.
  • When single atoms or groups (i.e. ions) combine with another group or ion which has an opposite charge, they attract together and form a compound. 
  • Bonds between two atoms or ions may be stronger or weaker depending on how much charge (or how many electrons) are involved.    Example:  When two atoms share two electrons (i.e. contributing one each), the bond is represented by a single line and is called a single bond. When two atoms share four electrons (i.e. contributing two each), this is referred to as a double bond, and two lines are drawn between the two.

Elements and Compounds

  • Atoms are the smallest complete units of elements, of which there are more than 100 different types. 
  • Each element is unique in its structure of atoms. All the atoms of an element are similar to one another; and different from the atoms of all other elements.
  • The atomic number of an element represents the number of protons in the nucleus of one atom. The element Hydrogen has the least number of protons in its nucleus and hence has the atomic number of 1; the element Uranium has the largest number of protons and has the atomic number of 92.
  • The atomic weight of an element is essentially equal to the number of protons and neutrons in the nucleus of one atom. 
  • Elements occur either singly, but more commonly in combination with one another, called compounds.
  • Carbohydrates a a common type of compound, found in plants. They are made or synthesised in plants by the process of photosynthesis. During photosynthesis light energy is accepted by the plant cell, and transformed into chemical energy which is used to bond atoms of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon together, producing sugars. The hydrogen, oxygen and carbon come from water (extracted from the soil) and carbon dioxide (extracted from the air). Plants can build up complex carbohydrates and store them as starch in their tissues. Humans cannot do this. Starch must be broken down into simple sugars before being used by human tissue. Photosynthesis can be reversed in a plant in order to supply energy (with by- products of carbon dioxide and water. This process is called plant respiration.

Meet some of our academics

Marie BeermanMarie has over 7 years in horticulture and education in both Australia and Germany. Marie has been a co author of several ebooks in recent years, including "Roses" and "Climbing Plants". Marie's qualifications include B. Sc., M.Hort. Dip. Bus. Cert. Ldscp.
Rosemary Davies Leading horticultural expert in Australia. Rosemary trained in Horticultural Applied Science at Melbourne University. Initially she worked with Agriculture Victoria as an extension officer, taught horticulture students, worked on radio with ABC radio (clocking up over 24 years as a presenter of garden talkback programs, initially the only woman presenter on gardening in Victoria) and she simultaneously developed a career as a writer. She then studied Education and Training, teaching TAFE apprentices and developing curriculum for TAFE, before taking up an offer as a full time columnist with the Herald and Weekly Times and its magazine department after a number of years as columnist with the Age. She has worked for a number of companies in writing and publications, PR community education and management and has led several tours to Europe. In 1999 Rosemary was BPW Bendigo Business Woman of the Year and is one of the founders and the Patron, of the Friends of the Bendigo Botanic gardens. She has completed her 6th book this year and is working on concepts for several others. Rosemary has a B Ed, BSc Hort, Dip Advertising & Marketing
Dr. Gareth PearceVeterinary scientist and surgeon with expertise in agriculture and environmental science, with over 25 years of experience in teaching and research in agriculture, veterinary medicine, wildlife ecology and conservation in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Post-graduate qualifications in Education, Wildlife Conservation Medicine, Aquatic Veterinary Studies and Wildlife Biology & Conservation. Gareth has a B.Sc.(Hons), B.V.Sc., M.A., M.Vet.S,. PhD, Grad. Cert. Ed.(HE), Post-Grad.Cert. Aq.Vet.Sc., Post-Grad. Cert. WLBio&Cons., Dipl. ECPHM, MRCVS.