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Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment

Study Plant Biochemistry

  • Learn about lipids, proteins, enzymes, nitrogen, the nitrogen cycle, photosynthesis, respiration, transpiration, assimilation, pH, chemical analysis and much more.
  • Improve your understanding of biochemistry applications.

Chemistry is the study of the various elements that make up the physical world and how they interact. Organic chemistry is the study of chemical compounds containing carbon. “Bio” means “alive”, therefore biochemistry is the study of the chemistry of biological organisms and how organic chemical compounds react within living cells. In other words, biochemistry is about understanding the chemical reactions that make, break, run and repair living things and the components that make them up. Biochemistry’s goal is to understand the chemical basis of all biological phenomena.

This course is very similar to Biochemistry (Animals) but with an emphasis on plants.  There is no need to take both.

Prerequisite: Some secondary school chemistry will be helpful but not essential.

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Study the biochemistry of plants

A foundation course for anyone working with plants or with aspirations to become a plant scientist.

Discover how significant the chemistry of plants is in our day to day lives.

A course for:

  • Botany students
  • Horticulturists
  • Farmers
  • Anyone producing, manufacturing or using plant products -in food, medicines, or elsewhere.

There are biochemical differences between different species of living organisms, and those differences become greater as the organisms being considered become more remote from each other. For example, the biochemical differences between two different mammals are far less than the differences between animals and plants.

Plants are able to photosynthesise, trapping light energy from the sun and converting it into chemical energy, stored in carbohydrates. Animals cannot do this. Different organisms will contain and use different types of chemicals within their body. Animals often contain complex chemicals, which simply do not exist in the plant kingdom.


There are 9 lessons, as follows:

  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


  • 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.


  • 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.


Chemical compounds found in plants are commonly derived from carbohydrates which are synthesised during photosynthesis. These compounds can be divided into two main groups: primary and secondary metabolites. Some chemicals may be both primary and secondary, so this grouping is a slight generalisation but it is a widely used method.

Primary Metabolites
These are found in all plant cells. They are used in basic plant processes and biochemical reactions concerned with growth and metabolism. They include fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. From a commercial perspective primary metabolites are harvested for use in large quantities as relatively low value raw materials for industry, or foods such as vegetable oils, as well as food additives such as proteins and carbohydrates like starch, cellulose and sucrose.

Amongst the primary metabolites, some have physiological influences on the human body but it is mostly secondary metabolites .

Secondary Metabolites
This is the group of most interest to us because medicinal plants have lots of these chemicals. In fact, it is the presence of secondary metabolites which give medicinal plants their name. There are thousands of these secondary metabolites.  They are generally not involved in growth and metabolic processes but instead many of them are used by plants to fight against pathogens or to ward off attacks from herbivores by being toxic or repellent to them. They therefore play a role in defence. Others may inhibit the growth of other competitor plants, and some are responsible for pigments and odours which attract pollinating insects to plants.

Secondary metabolites are derived from primary metabolites. There are different ways to classify them but one method which is widely adopted is to group them into alkaloids, phenolic compounds, and terpenoids. Alkaloids and phenolic compounds are synthesised by the shikimic pathway. Terpenoids are synthesised via the acetyl-CoA mevalonic acid pathway.

Consider Alkaloids
Alkaloids are compounds which contain mainly nitrogen along with some hydrogen and carbon. They may also contain oxygen and sulphur. More rarely other elements may be present including phosphorous, bromine and chlorine. They are derived from primary metabolites including amino acids like lysine, tyrosine and tryptophan. Most are salts of organic acids e.g. acetic, citric and oxalic acids. Alkaloids have certain chemical characteristics such as reacting chemically like alkaline substances because of the presence of a nitrogen atom. Many are highly toxic if consumed by animals and they often taste bitter.

Some alkaloids have great medicinal value if used carefully. Alkaloids have many different effects on the human body, for example morphine and codeine in opium are well known pain relieving alkaloids.  Vinblastine is an anti-cancer alkaloid. Others include sanguinarine which is an antibiotic, scopolamine which is a sedative, tubocuranine which is a muscle relaxant, colchicines used to suppress gout, and ajmalicine which acts as a an antiarrhythmic combating irregular patterns of heartbeats.  Nicotine in tobacco is also an alkaloid, as is caffeine in coffee and tea beverages and these both act as stimulants.

Alkaloids may be found throughout whole plants or they may be concentrated in certain plant parts like seeds, bark or roots. Nicotine and tropane alkaloids are made in the roots and then transported to above ground parts. Some, such as nicotinic acid derivatives, are found in many plants albeit in different forms. Also, some are found in particular plant families or groups of plants. For example, the anticholinergic alkaloids scopolamine, atropine and hyoscyamine are mainly found in plants from the solanaceae family.  Toxic tropane alkaloids are found in berries of plants form the convolvulaceae, solanaceae and erythroxylaceae families.

Many isoquinoline alkaloids are found in plants of the papaveraceae, ranunculaceae, berbidaceae, and menispermaceae families. Amongst these is the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) which contains three of these alkaloids in morphine, thebaine and codeine.

What do our students think?

"Clients... that have completed courses with ACS that we have spoken to, have all been extremely happy. Leanne & myself are more than happy with the assistance we received and the prompt attention." Dynamic Workforce Solutions

"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, Biochemistry 1 (Diploma in Horticulture). 

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Meet some of our academics

Maggi BrownMaggi is regarded as an expert in organic growing throughout the UK, having worked for two decades as Education Officer at the world renowned Henry Doubleday Research Association. She has been active in education, environmental management and horticulture across the UK for more than three decades. Some of Maggi's qualifications include RHS Cert. Hort. Cert. Ed. Member RHS Life Member Garden Organic (HDRA) .
Diana Cole (Horticulturist)Horticulturist, Permaculturist, Landscaper, Environmentalist. Holds a Diploma in Horticulture, degree in geography, permaculture certificate and various other qualifications. Between 1985 and 94, Diana was a task leader with the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers. Since 2001 she has been chairperson of the Friends of Mellor Park (with Stockport MDC). From 2005 she has worked exclusively in horticulture as proprietor of her own garden design and consultancy business in and around Derbyshire; and at the same time as part time manager of a small garden centre. Diana has been an enthusiastic and very knowledgeable tutor with ACS since 2008.
Yvonne Sharpe (Horticulturist)Started gardening in 1966, studied a series of horticulture qualifications throughout the 1980's and 90's, culminating in an RHS Master of Horticulture. Between 89 and 1994, she worked teaching in horticultural therapy. Founded the West Herts Garden Association in 1990 and exhibited at Chelsea Flower Show in 1991. In 1994, Yvonne joined the staff at Oaklands College, and between 1996 and 2000 was coordinator for all Amenity Horticulture courses at that college. Since leaving Oakland she has been active as a horticultural consultant, retail garden centre proprietor and sessional lecturer (across many colleges in southern England). In 2000, she also completed a Diploma in Management.

Check out our eBooks

Starting a Nursery or Herb FarmIt's often amazing how much can be produced, and the profit that can be made from a few hundred square meters of land. To work efficiently and profitably, a nursery or herb farm must be both well organised and properly managed. As with any business, it is essential to be confident enough to make firm decisions as and when needed. This e-book is your ticket to a fragrant future.
Tropical PlantsThis luscious, illustrated ebook covers hundreds of different plant genera, and many more cultivars. You will learn how to grow plants commonly cultivated in the tropics and subtropics. It contains everything you need to know about growing tropical plants, managing them and working with them (they can be a little temperamental). Many of the plants can also grow in milder climates as indoor plants or in protected places. Previously published in print form by Kangaroo Press (Simon and Schuster).
WeedsThis book helps you understand different types of weeds, and how to control them. Many of the more commonly occurring weeds around the world are both illustrated and described.
What to Plant WhereA great guide for choosing the right plant for a particular position in the garden. Thirteen chapters cover: plant selection, establishment, problems, and plants for wet areas. Shade, hedges and screens, dry gardens, coastal areas, small gardens, trees and shrubs, lawns and garden art.