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Chemistry of living organisms
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Chemistry of Living Organisms


pure substance that cannot be broken down into any simpler substances by ordinary means


two or more elements that are chemically joined together

inorganic compounds

Compounds that do not contain carbon (except carbon dioxide-CO2.

--inorganic compounds make up non-living substances

organic compounds

Organic refers to life

compounds that contain carbon (and usually hydrogen and oxygen)

Example: C6H12O6

--organic compounds that are basic to life: carbohydrates, fats and oils, proteins, enzymes, and nucleic acids.


main source of energy for living organisms: sugar and starch

--sugar is broken down inside the body into glucose, which is used for energy.

--excess sugar is stored as starch

Fats and oils

--energy rich compound made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen

--a.k.a. lipids


organic compound made of C, H, O

--amino acids are the building blocks of proteins

---growth and repair

---build body parts

---provide energy

---carry oxygen in blood

---fight germs

---make hormones


special type of protein that regulates chemical activities in the body

Nucleic Acids

"blueprints" of life

store information that the body needs to build proteins

---DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid)

stores information; delivers


---RNA (ribonucleic acid)

reads the information

Organic Compounds

Many chemical compounds in living organisms are known as organic compounds' which contain C, H and O. In the earlier chapter we have seen that an organism is formed primarily from six elements: C, H, O, N, P, Ca. The study of organic compounds is called organic chemistry.

(A) Carbohydrates

There are plenty of organic compounds present in nature. All living things contain basically four types of organic compounds. Carbohydrates form the first category of organic compounds.

For metabolism the organism requires energy. This energy is provided primarily by carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are basically composed of 3 elements, C, H, and O. The ratio of H to O is 2:1, as in a water molecule (H2O). There are types of carbohydrates according to the complexity of the carbohydrate molecule. Carbohydrates and usually taste sweet to humans are referred to as sugar. If a carbohydrate is made up from a single molecule it is called monosaccharide. When the carbohydrate is made up of 2 sugar molecules linked together it is referred to as a disaccharide Carbohydrates which have more than 3 molecules are called polysaccharides. The general formula to represent the carbohydrate is Cx(H2O)y.

Table I: Schematic Representation of Carbohydrates

1) Monosaccharides

They are the simplest soluble sugar. Depending on the number of carbon atoms present, monosaccharides are further classified as:

a) trioses (3 carbons) C3H6O3 e.g. glyceraldehyde

b) pentoses (5 carbons) C5H10O5 e.g. ribose and deoxyribose

c) hexoses (6 carbons) C6H12O6 e.g. glucose

Glucose C6H12O6 is a basic form of fuel in all living things. It is soluble in blood plasma and water and so it is transported by body fluids to all cells in the body. In cells it is metabolized and releases energy. Glucose is also the main product of photosynthesis and also an initiating material for cellular respiration.

2) Disaccharides: These carbohydrates contain two monosaccharides linked together and accordingly they are known as:

(a) Disaccharide : contains two monosaccharides e.g. lactose, maltose, sucrose

Maltose Glucose + Glucose

Sucrose Glucose + Fructose

Lactose Glucose + Galactose

(b) trisaccharide: containing 3 monosaccharides. e.g. raffinose

(c) tetrasaccharide: containing 4 monosaccharide e.g stachyose

3) Polysaccharides

General formula n (C6H10O5)

These complex carbohydrates are formed by chains of at least ten monosaccharides.

They are of two types:

(a) Homoglycans: containing only one type of monosaccharide (e.g. glycogen, starch, cellulose, contain only glucose molecules). Starch is a very important polysaccharide because it is formed through a chain of hundreds or thousands of glucose units. Carbohydrates in plants are stored in the form of starches. Starch contained in energy rich food like rice, corn, and potatoes form part of the staple diet of most people.

A second important polysaccharide is glycogen. Glycogen also contains thousands of glucose chains; the difference from starch though is in its branching pattern. Glucose is stored in the human liver in the form of glycogen.

Another important polysaccharide is cellulose. Cellulose is used primarily as a structural carbohydrate. It is also composed of glucose units, linked in a different orientation but the units cannot be released from one another except by a few species of organisms. Wood is formed from cellulose. Even the cell wall of all plants is made up of cellulose. Cotton and paper are also cellulose products.

(b) Heteroglucans: contain more than one type of monosaccharide linked together (e.g. mucilage, gum etc.)

4) Proteins and its derivatives

Proteins are the fundamental chemical compounds of the protoplasm indispensable for vital life processes. They are complex, large molecules each containing thousands of atoms. proteins contain nitrogen in addition to carbon, hydrogen and oxygen; they usually also contain phosphorus and sulfur. These compounds are polymers of unit structures called amino acids, represented chemically as:

-NH2 is an amino group, - COOH is the carboxyl group, and R represents the variable chain forming different amino acids. There are 20 different of amino acids. The amino acids differ depending on the nature of the R group. Examples of amino acids are valine, alanine, glutamic acid, tyrosine and histidine.

Two molecules of amino acids are joined by the carboxyl group of one amino acid with the amino group of the other by loss of one molecule of water. This process is called dehydration synthesis and the bond thus formed between two molecules is referred to as the peptide or peptide bond.

There are 3 types of proteins namely :

(1) Simple proteins: like albumins and globulins formed by group of amino acids only.

(2) Derived proteins: like protease and peptones, which are hydrolytic cleavage products of complex proteins.

(3) Conjugated proteins: like nucleo proteins (Proteins + nucleic acid), lipoproteins (protein + lipid), or glycoproteins (protein + carbohydrates) which are formed by the combination of proteins with some non-protein molecule. This non-protein portion is called Prosthetic group.

All living things require protein for survival. In fact an organism is constructed by means of proteins. All living things then, in any form - liquid, solid, or plasma - contain proteins. Protein is also seen as a supporting tissue with main tissue. Bone, tendons, muscle, cartilage, ligaments are all formed of protein.

Enzymes are a specified class of proteins. Enzymes act as catalysts in chemical reactions of the body. They are not used up by the reaction, rather they remain chemically unchanged and available to catalyze succeeding reactions.

Nucleotides And Nucleic Acid

Every organism reproduces within its life span. This is accomplished through cell divisions and is regulated by many kinds of proteins. The information for synthesizing unique proteins is located in the nucleus of the cell. It is called the genetic code, which is the "blue print" for producing specific sequences of the amino acids in proteins. Thus the genetic code can regulate chemical reaction going on in the cell.

Man’s queries into the nature of cells did not end with its discovery of general structures. In an attempt to understand the chemical make up and functional details of the cell he succeeded in discovering a substance called nucleic acid, made up of long chains of nucleotide units.

(A) Nucleotide

It is the structural unit of nucleic acid. Each nucleotide is composed of:

(1)Pentose sugar
(2) Phosphate group

(3) One of four nitrogen bases attached to the pentose sugar. A nucleotide without a phosphate group is a nucleoside.

B) Nucleic acids

They are complex, large biomolecules formed of many units called nucleotides.

Nucleic acids are of two types :

(1) DNA - Deoxyribonucleic acid and, (2) RNA - Ribonucleic acid

The DNA of cells contains genetic information in a coded form, and is only present in the nucleus of the cells formed from DNA, plus a few special organelles. RNA and is present in the cytoplasm and in the nucleus of the cell.

DNA and RNA differ from one another in their components. DNA contains the pentose sugar, deoxyribose, while RNA contains ribose.


Fats and their derivatives are collectively called lipids. Fats are compounds containing fatty acids and glycerol. They are composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, but less oxygen than that in carbohydrates. Fatty acids are long chains of CH2 groups with terminal methyl and carboxyl groups with general formula CH3[CH2]n-COOH, while glycerol molecule contains a chain of three carbon atoms and has a formula C3H6O3. In the formation of fat, three molecules of fatty acids are combined with three-OH groups on one molecule of glycerol, with removal of 3 molecules of water which is represented as follows :

 There are mainly three types of lipids . The simple lipids, commonly known as fats and oils, the compound lipids such as phospholipids and glycolipids which on hydrolysis yield not only alcohol and fatty acids but also other compounds and derived lipids such as steroids which include cholesterol, Vitamin D, estrogen, testosterone, cortisol, etc. Lipids are practically insoluble in water but are soluble in organic solvents like chloroform, ether and benzene.

Fats stored in cells are usually clear oil droplets called globules. Because fats do not dissolve in water, animals store fat in large clear globules in the cells of adipose tissue. The enzyme lipase breaks down fats into fatty acids and glycerol, which can be further broken down to produce energy.


Acids and Bases or Alkalis

If a compound reacts with water and releases hydrogen ions (H+) ions then this compound is called an acid, and is said to be acidic in nature. For example, when hydrogen sulphide is mixed with water, it releases hydrogen ions and the solution becomes one of sulphuric acid. Other chemical compounds when dissolved in water attract hydrogen atoms. These substances are called bases or alkalis. For example, when sodium hydroxide (NaOH) is mixed with water, sodium hydroxide attracts hydrogen ions from H2O, and (OH-) ions remain. So these substances that remove (H+) from water act as bases or alkalis.


Water's Physical Properties

  • Water is unique in that it is the only natural substance that is found in all three states -- liquid, solid (ice), and gas (steam) -- at the temperatures normally found on Earth. Earth's water is constantly interacting, changing, and in movement.
  • Water freezes at 32o Fahrenheit (F) and boils at 212o F (at sea level, but 186.4 at 14,000 feet). In fact, water's freezing and boiling points are the baseline with which temperature is measured: 0o on the Celsius scale is water's freezing point, and 100o is water's boiling point. Water is unusual in that the solid form, ice, is less dense than the liquid form, which is why ice floats.
  • Water has a high specific heat index. This means that water can absorb a lot of heat before it begins to get hot. This is why water is valuable to industries and in your car's radiator as a coolant. The high specific heat index of water also helps regulate the rate at which air changes temperature, which is why the temperature change between seasons is gradual rather than sudden, especially near the oceans.
  • Water has a very high surface tension. In other words, water is sticky and elastic, and tends to clump together in drops rather than spread out in a thin film. Surface tension is responsible for capillary action, which allows water (and its dissolved substances) to move through the roots of plants and through the tiny blood vessels in our bodies.
  • Here's a quick rundown of some of water's properties:
    • Weight: 62.416 pounds per cubic foot at 32F
    • Weight: 61.998 pounds per cubic foot at 100F
    • Weight: 8.33 pounds/gallon, 0.036 pounds/cubic inch
    • Density: 1 gram per cubic centimeter (cc) at 39.2F, 0.95865 gram per cc at 212F
  • Pure water has a neutral pH of 7, which is neither acidic nor basic.