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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

Please what is ovulation
Adusei Reply
What is cell division?
What is copulation?
what is a metaborism
Beatrice Reply
this is a specialized part of the cell eg Nucleus
David Reply
what are the organelles?
Faith Reply
what is reproduction
mana Reply
reproduction is the process by which living organisms give rise to young ones of their own kind
What is evolution
the production of new forms of life over time as documented in the fossil record.
give two parasites where secondary host is water snail?
Kevin Reply
what is treats
Raih Reply
what are the organelles in cell that involves in protein sythenis
Rita Reply
what is a melanin?
Judith Reply
what is telophase
melanin in that black color we posse in our skins
Why do parasites take on a parasitic life?
Asadullah Reply
what is cell
Ousman Reply
A cell is the basic structure unit of an organ
what is respiration
what is organisms?
Organisms are living things that can function on their own
A cell is a functional basic unit of an organisms.
Organisms is a entity which consists of one or more cells and are able to undergo all life processes
A respiration is the physical and chemical break down of complex food substance into absorbable or simple form.
What will to a cell if the nucleus is removed..?
Goodrick Reply
When a cell nucleus removed then the cell will not be able to function properly, it will not be able to grow .All the metabolic functioning of the cell will stop .Without nucleus the cell will lose it's control. It can not carry out cellular reproduction .
defin peroxesome
write a short note on how the kidney carry out osmoregulation in man
Rhoda Reply
Kidney play a very large role in human osoregulation by regulating the amount of water reabsorbed from glomerular filtrate in kidney as tubules, which is controlled by hormones such as antrdiuvetic hormone (ADH) , aldosterone and angiotensin.
kidney is capable of osmoregulation in mammal ,
simple definition for respiratory system
Gift Reply
Respiratory system is a network of organs and tissues that helps you to breathe or help in getting the rids of oxygen and discharge of carbon dioxide in the body.
What are uses of respiratory system
how it functions
what is inresparetion
Why do parasites take on a parasitic life?
A respiratory system is a biological system consisting of specific organs and structures used for gas exchange in animals and plant
diseases of respiration
when air enters to the body called inresparetion
explain why plants responds to stimuli slowly than animals
how is a aerenchyma tissue adapted to its function
fatuma Reply
Have large air spaces that store air for gaseous exchange... Large air spaces also facilitate bouyancy.

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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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