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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Describe the four major types of lipids
  • Explain the role of fats in storing energy
  • Differentiate between saturated and unsaturated fatty acids
  • Describe phospholipids and their role in cells
  • Define the basic structure of a steroid and some functions of steroids
  • Explain the how cholesterol helps to maintain the fluid nature of the plasma membrane

Lipids include a diverse group of compounds that are largely nonpolar in nature. This is because they are hydrocarbons that include mostly nonpolar carbon–carbon or carbon–hydrogen bonds. Non-polar molecules are hydrophobic (“water fearing”), or insoluble in water. Lipids perform many different functions in a cell. Cells store energy for long-term use in the form of fats. Lipids also provide insulation from the environment for plants and animals ( [link] ). For example, they help keep aquatic birds and mammals dry when forming a protective layer over fur or feathers because of their water-repellant hydrophobic nature. Lipids are also the building blocks of many hormones and are an important constituent of all cellular membranes. Lipids include fats, oils, waxes, phospholipids, and steroids.

Photo shows a river otter swimming.
Hydrophobic lipids in the fur of aquatic mammals, such as this river otter, protect them from the elements. (credit: Ken Bosma)

Fats and oils

A fat molecule consists of two main components—glycerol and fatty acids. Glycerol is an organic compound (alcohol) with three carbons, five hydrogens, and three hydroxyl (OH) groups. Fatty acids have a long chain of hydrocarbons to which a carboxyl group is attached, hence the name “fatty acid.” The number of carbons in the fatty acid may range from 4 to 36; most common are those containing 12–18 carbons. In a fat molecule, the fatty acids are attached to each of the three carbons of the glycerol molecule with an ester bond through an oxygen atom ( [link] ).

The structures of glycerol, a fatty acid, and a triacylglycerol are shown. Glycerol is a chain of three carbons, with a hydroxyl (OH) group attached to each carbon. A fatty acid has an acetyl (COOH) group attached to a long carbon chain. In triacylglycerol, a fatty acid is attached to each of glycerol’s three hydroxyl groups via the carboxyl group. A water molecule is lost in the reaction so the structure of the linkage is C-O-C, with an oxygen double bonded to the second carbon.
Triacylglycerol is formed by the joining of three fatty acids to a glycerol backbone in a dehydration reaction. Three molecules of water are released in the process.

During this ester bond formation, three water molecules are released. The three fatty acids in the triacylglycerol may be similar or dissimilar. Fats are also called triacylglycerols or triglycerides because of their chemical structure. Some fatty acids have common names that specify their origin. For example, palmitic acid, a saturated fatty acid    , is derived from the palm tree. Arachidic acid is derived from Arachis hypogea, the scientific name for groundnuts or peanuts.

Fatty acids may be saturated or unsaturated. In a fatty acid chain, if there are only single bonds between neighboring carbons in the hydrocarbon chain, the fatty acid is said to be saturated. Saturated fatty acids are saturated with hydrogen; in other words, the number of hydrogen atoms attached to the carbon skeleton is maximized. Stearic acid is an example of a saturated fatty acid ( [link] )

The structure of stearic acid is shown. This fatty acid has a hydrocarbon chain seventeen residues long attached to an acetyl group. All bonds between the carbons are single bonds.
Stearic acid is a common saturated fatty acid.

When the hydrocarbon chain contains a double bond, the fatty acid is said to be unsaturated . Oleic acid is an example of an unsaturated fatty acid ( [link] ).

Questions & Answers

why drinking excess alcohol causes thirst and dehydration
uwikuzo Reply
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.
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
give me the elements of the soil
Iguma Reply
Air, water, organic matter, inorganic matter
soil water humus air
silica, iron
potassium, sulfur, calcium, carbon
what is cell
iyaji Reply
A cell is a smallest fundamental unit of a living organisms.
the basic structural and functional unit of life
what is size of cell
all things are made up of.....all things cannot exist without pre-exisiting cells...check out the 16th ce tury to learn more about microscope use and cells. i will give a hint: Mr. L.
we are all made of cells
Nutrition - sensitive intervention
Therowda Reply
what does the sori In fern mean
arhin Reply
biology is the study .exactly what is life?
i'm sorry , the study of life
how can U identify a person through his blood
Frankyx Reply
through genetic fingerprinting where specific DNA sequences in a person genome can be identified.
by help of genetics and DNA test
can it also be detected using an RNA test
environmental biology
Ojesola Reply
what is phytoplankton
What is anabolism
Treasure Reply
the break down of substance
how many teeth has an adult person
32 teeth
32 (or 36 including the wisdom teeth)
what is homoestastis
Ayo Reply
hypothalamus negative feedback vs. postive feedback systems.
it is the maintenance of a steady internal environment.it is controlled largely by the brain especially the hypothalamus.
What is a cell
Eric Reply
A cell is the building block of all organisms
yes it is , it also helps in functions .
cell is structural & functional unit of oraganisms
it is a building blocks of a living organism
it is the basic unit of life in living organisms
it is the basic unite of life in living organisms
it is the fundamental unit of life
it is the structural and functional unit of life
Why cells are classify as living and non living things
Millicent Reply
due to such as virus which acts as a living cell inside the cell of an organisms and out side of cell in form of crystals
because there are living cells which performs complex processes such as reproduction and metabolism then there are dead cells like the top most part of the epidermis or the bark
because there are living cells which performs complex function such as reproduction and metabolism
cause otherwise you could call fire alive

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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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