The Chemical basis of Animal Life

The structure of biological molecules

Cells are largely composed of compounds that contain carbon. The study of how carbon atoms interact with other atoms in molecular compounds forms the basis of the field of organic chemistry and plays a large role in understanding the basic functions of cells. Because carbon atoms can form stable bonds with four other atoms, they are uniquely suited for the construction of complex molecules. These complex molecules are typically made up of chains and rings that contain hydrogenoxygen, and nitrogen atoms, as well as carbon atoms. These molecules may consist of anywhere from 10 to millions of atoms linked together in specific arrays. Most, but not all, of the carbon-containing molecules in cells are built up from members of one of four different families of small organic molecules: sugars, amino acidsnucleotides, and fatty acids. Each of these families contains a group of molecules that resemble one another in both structure and function. In addition to other important functions, these molecules are used to build large macromolecules. For example, the sugars can be linked to form polysaccharides such as starch and glycogen, the amino acids can be linked to form proteins, the nucleotides can be linked to form the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and RNA (ribonucleic acid) of chromosomes, and the fatty acids can be linked to form the lipids of all cell membranes.