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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Understand the synthesis of macromolecules
  • Explain dehydration (or condensation) and hydrolysis reactions

As you’ve learned, biological macromolecules are large molecules, necessary for life, that are built from smaller organic molecules. There are four major classes of biological macromolecules (carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids); each is an important cell component and performs a wide array of functions. Combined, these molecules make up the majority of a cell’s dry mass (recall that water makes up the majority of its complete mass). Biological macromolecules are organic, meaning they contain carbon. In addition, they may contain hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and additional minor elements.

Dehydration synthesis

Most macromolecules are made from single subunits, or building blocks, called monomers . The monomers combine with each other using covalent bonds to form larger molecules known as polymers . In doing so, monomers release water molecules as byproducts. This type of reaction is known as dehydration synthesis    , which means “to put together while losing water.”

Shown is the reaction of two glucose monomers to form maltose. When maltose is formed, a water molecules is released.
In the dehydration synthesis reaction depicted above, two molecules of glucose are linked together to form the disaccharide maltose. In the process, a water molecule is formed.

In a dehydration synthesis reaction ( [link] ), the hydrogen of one monomer combines with the hydroxyl group of another monomer, releasing a molecule of water. At the same time, the monomers share electrons and form covalent bonds. As additional monomers join, this chain of repeating monomers forms a polymer. Different types of monomers can combine in many configurations, giving rise to a diverse group of macromolecules. Even one kind of monomer can combine in a variety of ways to form several different polymers: for example, glucose monomers are the constituents of starch, glycogen, and cellulose.


Polymers are broken down into monomers in a process known as hydrolysis, which means “to split water,” a reaction in which a water molecule is used during the breakdown ( [link] ). During these reactions, the polymer is broken into two components: one part gains a hydrogen atom (H+) and the other gains a hydroxyl molecule (OH–) from a split water molecule.

Shown is the breakdown of maltose to form two glucose monomers. Water is a reactant.
In the hydrolysis reaction shown here, the disaccharide maltose is broken down to form two glucose monomers with the addition of a water molecule. Note that this reaction is the reverse of the synthesis reaction shown in [link] .

Dehydration and hydrolysis reactions are catalyzed, or “sped up,” by specific enzymes; dehydration reactions involve the formation of new bonds, requiring energy, while hydrolysis reactions break bonds and release energy. These reactions are similar for most macromolecules, but each monomer and polymer reaction is specific for its class. For example, in our bodies, food is hydrolyzed, or broken down, into smaller molecules by catalytic enzymes in the digestive system. This allows for easy absorption of nutrients by cells in the intestine. Each macromolecule is broken down by a specific enzyme. For instance, carbohydrates are broken down by amylase, sucrase, lactase, or maltase. Proteins are broken down by the enzymes pepsin and peptidase, and by hydrochloric acid. Lipids are broken down by lipases. Breakdown of these macromolecules provides energy for cellular activities.

Visit this site to see visual representations of dehydration synthesis and hydrolysis.

Section summary

Proteins, carbohydrates, nucleic acids, and lipids are the four major classes of biological macromolecules—large molecules necessary for life that are built from smaller organic molecules. Macromolecules are made up of single units known as monomers that are joined by covalent bonds to form larger polymers. The polymer is more than the sum of its parts: it acquires new characteristics, and leads to an osmotic pressure that is much lower than that formed by its ingredients; this is an important advantage in the maintenance of cellular osmotic conditions. A monomer joins with another monomer with the release of a water molecule, leading to the formation of a covalent bond. These types of reactions are known as dehydration or condensation reactions. When polymers are broken down into smaller units (monomers), a molecule of water is used for each bond broken by these reactions; such reactions are known as hydrolysis reactions. Dehydration and hydrolysis reactions are similar for all macromolecules, but each monomer and polymer reaction is specific to its class. Dehydration reactions typically require an investment of energy for new bond formation, while hydrolysis reactions typically release energy by breaking bonds.

Questions & Answers

hetreothalism in fungi
Lekhram Reply
there are 3 trimester in human pregnancy
I don't know answer of this question can u help me
what is a cell
Fatima Reply
A cell is functional and structural unit of life.
what is genetic
Janet Reply
I join
what are the branchas of biology
Prisca Reply
zoology, ecology
genetics, microbiology,botany and embryology
what is a cell
Kulunbawi Reply
cell is smallest unit of life. cells are often cell the building blocks of life...
the first twenty element
Orapinega Reply
what are the characteristics of living things?
growth,respiration,nutrition,sensitivity, movement,irritability, excretion,death.
What is the difference between adaptation and competition in animals
Adeyemi Reply
What is biology
it is a natural science stadey about living things
Biology is the bronch of science which deals with the study of life is called biology
what is the x in 300 stands for?
Ogbudu Reply
the properties of life
Clarinda Reply
response to the environment, reproduction, homeostasis, growth,energy processing etc.....
what is reproduction
Reproduction is a fundamental feature of all known life,each individual organism exist as a result of re production.....or else Multiplying...
a complete virus particle known as
Darlington Reply
These are formed from identical protein subunitscalled capsomeres.
fabace family plant name
Pushpam Reply
in eukaryotes ...protein channel name which transport protein ...
Pushpam Reply
in bacteria ...chromosomal dna duplicate structure called
what is a prokaryotic cell and a eukaryotic cell
Matilda Reply
There are two types of cells. Eukaryotic and Prokaryotic cells. Prokaryotic cells don't have a nucleus or membrane enclosed organelles (little organs within that cell). They do however carry genetic material but it's not maintained in the nucleus. Prokaryotic cells are also one celled.
Prokaryotic cells are one celled (single celled).
Prokaryotic cells are Bacteria and Archea
Prokaryotic cells are smaller than Eukaryotic cells.
Eukaryotic cells are more complex. They are much bigger than Prokaryotic cells.
Eukaryotic cells have a nucleus and membrane bound organelles.
Eukaryotic cells are animals cells which also includes us.
Eukaryotic cells are also multicellular.
nice explaination
eukaryotic cells are individual cells .. but eukaryotes are multicellular organisms which consist of many different types of eukaryotic cells
also eukaryotic cells have mitochondria. prokaryotic cells do not
in prokaryotes only ribosomes are present... in eukaryotes mitochondria ...glogi bodies ..epidermis .....prokaryotes one envelop but eukaryotes compartment envelop....envelop mean membrane bound organelles......
prokaryotic cell are cells dat have no true nuclei i.e no cell membrane while eukaryotic cell are cell dat have true nuclei i.e have cell membrane
we have 46 pair of somatic cell and 23 pair of chromosomes in our body, pls can someone explain it to me. pls
Matilda Reply
we have 22 pairs of somatic chromosomes and one pair of sex chromosome
we have 23 pairs of chromosomes,22 pairs of somatic and one pair of sex chromosomes
23 chromosomes from dad & 23 chromosomes from mom 23 +23=46 total chromosomes
X & Y chromosomes are called sex cells, the very presence of a Y chromosome means the person is Male.
XX Female XY Male
If a Karyotype has more than 46 Chromosomes then nondisjunction occured. For example, having an extra chromosome 21 will cause Down Syndrome.
am caira I want to join
caira,whrere are u from
I'm a Ghanaian

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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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