The primary role of red blood cells in the circulatory system is to transport oxygen to the tissues. The actual carrier of oxygen molecules is the protein hemoglobin, which binds to the oxygen and moves it throughout the body, releasing it in areas where the concentration of dissolved oxygen is low. A certain mutation in the gene for hemoglobin causes a slight change in the structure of this crucial protein, resulting in a disease called sickle-cell anemia. For people with this mutation, the hemoglobin produced by their red blood cells has a tendency to clump together, distorting the shape of the red blood cells and giving rise to the crescent-shaped cells seen above. By understanding the changes in structure that are the underlying cause of this disease, we have developed various ways to treat and manage this illness.
Biochemistry is the study of chemical processes in living systems. In this chapter, we will explore some of the basic chemical components of biological systems and develop an understanding of the roles played by each major type of biomolecule.