The role of thermodynamics in biochemical engineering
This article is an adapted version of the introductory chapter of a book whose publication is imminent. It bears the title "Biothermodynamics - The role of thermodynamics in biochemical engineering." The aim of the paper is to give a very short overview of the state of biothermodynamics in an engineering context as reflected in this book. Seen from this perspective, biothermodynamics may be subdivided according to the scale used to formalize the description of the biological system into three large areas: (i) biomolecular thermodynamics (most fundamental scale), (ii) thermodynamics of metabolism (intermediary scale), and (iii) whole-cell thermodynamics ("black-box" description of living entities). In each of these subareas, the main available theoretical approaches and the current and the potential applications are discussed. Biomolecular thermodynamics (i) is especially well developed and is obviously highly pertinent for the development of downstream processing. Its use ought to be encouraged as much as possible. The subarea of thermodynamics of live cells (iii), although scarcely applied in practice, is also expected to enhance bioprocess research and development, particularly in predicting culture performances, for understanding the driving forces for cellular growth, and in developing, monitoring, and controlling cellular cultures. Finally, there is no question that thermodynamic analysis of cellular metabolism (ii) is a promising tool for systems biology and for many other applications, but quite a large research effort is still needed before it may be put to practical use.