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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Explain why carbon is important for life
  • Describe the role of functional groups in biological molecules

Cells are made of many complex molecules called macromolecules, such as proteins, nucleic acids (RNA and DNA), carbohydrates, and lipids. The macromolecules are a subset of organic molecules (any carbon-containing liquid, solid, or gas) that are especially important for life. The fundamental component for all of these macromolecules is carbon. The carbon atom has unique properties that allow it to form covalent bonds to as many as four different atoms, making this versatile element ideal to serve as the basic structural component, or “backbone,” of the macromolecules.

Individual carbon atoms have an incomplete outermost electron shell. With an atomic number of 6 (six electrons and six protons), the first two electrons fill the inner shell, leaving four in the second shell. Therefore, carbon atoms can form up to four covalent bonds with other atoms to satisfy the octet rule. The methane molecule provides an example: it has the chemical formula CH 4 . Each of its four hydrogen atoms forms a single covalent bond with the carbon atom by sharing a pair of electrons. This results in a filled outermost shell.


Hydrocarbons are organic molecules consisting entirely of carbon and hydrogen, such as methane (CH 4 ) described above. We often use hydrocarbons in our daily lives as fuels—like the propane in a gas grill or the butane in a lighter. The many covalent bonds between the atoms in hydrocarbons store a great amount of energy, which is released when these molecules are burned (oxidized). Methane, an excellent fuel, is the simplest hydrocarbon molecule, with a central carbon atom bonded to four different hydrogen atoms, as illustrated in [link] . The geometry of the methane molecule, where the atoms reside in three dimensions, is determined by the shape of its electron orbitals. The carbons and the four hydrogen atoms form a shape known as a tetrahedron, with four triangular faces; for this reason, methane is described as having tetrahedral geometry.

Methane, the simplest hydrocarbon, is composed of four hydrogen atoms surrounding a central carbon. The bond between the four hydrogen atoms and the central carbon spaced as far apart as possible. The resulting in a tetrahedral shape with hydrogen atoms projecting upward and off to three sides around the central carbon.
Methane has a tetrahedral geometry, with each of the four hydrogen atoms spaced 109.5° apart.

As the backbone of the large molecules of living things, hydrocarbons may exist as linear carbon chains, carbon rings, or combinations of both. Furthermore, individual carbon-to-carbon bonds may be single, double, or triple covalent bonds, and each type of bond affects the geometry of the molecule in a specific way. This three-dimensional shape or conformation of the large molecules of life (macromolecules) is critical to how they function.

Hydrocarbon chains

Hydrocarbon chains are formed by successive bonds between carbon atoms and may be branched or unbranched. Furthermore, the overall geometry of the molecule is altered by the different geometries of single, double, and triple covalent bonds, illustrated in [link] . The hydrocarbons ethane, ethene, and ethyne serve as examples of how different carbon-to-carbon bonds affect the geometry of the molecule. The names of all three molecules start with the prefix “eth-,” which is the prefix for two carbon hydrocarbons. The suffixes “-ane,” “-ene,” and “-yne” refer to the presence of single, double, or triple carbon-carbon bonds, respectively. Thus, propane, propene, and propyne follow the same pattern with three carbon molecules, butane, butane, and butyne for four carbon molecules, and so on. Double and triple bonds change the geometry of the molecule: single bonds allow rotation along the axis of the bond, whereas double bonds lead to a planar configuration and triple bonds to a linear one. These geometries have a significant impact on the shape a particular molecule can assume.

Questions & Answers

what is oxidation?
Rose Reply
 the state or result of being oxidized
hahahaha thanks, but my teachers requires a thorough meaning about that
Is the process of oxidizing ,the addition of oxygen to a compound with a loss of electrons, always accompanied by reduction
loss of electron....
thank you. 😊
thank you. 😊
thank you. 😊
what is oxidized
the process or result of oxidizing or being oxidized.
my pleasure
Google itttt.....if need explanation
to rose...
oxidation is the removal of oxygen addition of hydrogen
what is genetic
Chibawa Reply
name the enzymes that i found in the saliva
Valuables Reply
draw a bacterium cell and label
Kadijah Reply
What are the osmoregulatory functions of the kidney?
bisi Reply
What is ecology
Hebert Reply
what is cell
Etama Reply
cell is the basic unit of life
cell is the basic structural and functional unit of an living organism
a cell is the smallest and most basic unit of a living thing
cell is the basic unit of life. we are made up of 60,000 billions of cells.Each cell carry out a specific function in the body.
A cell is the smallest basic functioning unit of life.
where is the pectoral gridle located?
Tiania Reply
What is hypotonic
Bright Reply
what is hypotonic
Hypotonic means weak solution
the difference between the two cells
Obeng Reply
explain the courses and the correction of lon term sightedness and short term sightedness
Isaac Reply
long sightedness is said to be like someone that can see far object clearly why short sightedness is someone that only can see near obect
why drinking excess alcohol causes thirst and dehydration
uwikuzo Reply
Can we chat about nutrition please?
Uhm why is it so important to follow the nutritional process?
BC it contribute to the source of life
what is reproduction
smart Reply
it is d act of bringing young ones to life
to ensure survival of a species🚴‍♀️
what is a genotype
what is hazardous
a cell is the smallest unit of a living thing. so we all have cell
It is the formation of a zygote resulting from the fusion of the sperm cell with the ovum.Thus,this results in the production of new species which are genetically dissimilar from their parent cells.
yes we all have cell round our body without the existances of cell them they will be no life in us as human
what is size of cell
Mohd Reply
what is size of Hart
nanometers=um sign thingie
monomers and polymers of nucleic acids?
Jyrl Reply
dna and rna involvement

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Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
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