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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

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

mandle experiment point
Sarpz Reply
what is the mean of biology
chiluba
In a lay man definition biology talks about life as a whole
VICTOR
the study of living organisms
the study of the structure, function, and origin of living organisms
biology has many branches. Botany (the study of plants) , evolution,. Ecology (how animals interact amongst each other. the study the habitat of an animal and try to determine as well as find strategies to prevent a species from going extinct.
is simply the study of life
Namuli
hello
Namuli
what is a specicide
Twinkl Reply
why are mosquitoes primary and secondary consumers
Twinkl
what are the structures found in all viruses
Twinkl
how does vaccinating a woman prevent her baby from getting the illness?
Twinkl
how does selective breeding increase crop size
Twinkl
wat is an animal cell
Monicah Reply
what is deer
Khansawu Reply
breathing in reptiles
sam Reply
which molecules binds to the active site of an enzyme
Ghulam Reply
human
Haggai
please remind me
Bafaa
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Bafaa
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Bafaa
please I do not no
Bafaa
please remind me
Bafaa
what is nutrients
Patrick Reply
nutrients is substance which body use in terms of need
Haggai
yes..
Abdullahi
can I join?
Osei
substance that provides nourishment essential for the maintenance of life and for growth.
umar
right same answer as you Umar
Namuli
please remind me
Namuli
Any material that provide essential components for cell metabolisms is nutrient
Mahmood
what are the types of skeleton
Tanyi Reply
endo skeleton and exo skeleton
Faith
or types of skeletons There is exo skeleton found in class insecta Exo skeleton found in phylum chordata and lastly hydrostatic skeleton found mainly in earth worms
Daniel
and hydrostatic skeleton
Godbless
bronah
Kapoko
endo, exo and hydrostatic skeleton
Mico
what is life?
Jerson Reply
life is when any living thing breath or respirate.
Lucky
I want to join
Patrick
me too
Favour
me two
Monday
me too
Bengazy
me too
Maggie
I here
Yahaya
Does anybody knows another biology app that brings good understand
Lucky
give an example of a phylum where all members have open circulatory
Omoro Reply
anthropoda
Daniel
phylum Anthropoda
Daniel
how do u change the unit of temperature from degree celsius to degree Fahrenheit
Maggie
what are beneficial effects in industrial
Nnamani Reply
create employment
ibrahim
provide food
ibrahim
pollution
ibrahim
dirty the environment
ibrahim
pollution and lack of knowledge about how to manage waste
Alex
what is gametophyte
Ibrahim Reply
what is biology
Basiru Reply
Biology deals with the study of living organisms and their interactions with each other and the environment.
Quartey
biology simply means the study of living and non-livingthings.
Shamstar
what is the meaning of ubiquitous
Hamziyatu Reply
Under what topic is this question
fred
three branches of biology
Alexander Reply

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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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