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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Describe the ways in which carbon is critical to life
  • Explain the impact of slight changes in amino acids on organisms
  • Describe the four major types of biological molecules
  • Understand the functions of the four major types of molecules

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


It is often said that life is “carbon-based.” This means that carbon atoms, bonded to other carbon atoms or other elements, form the fundamental components of many, if not most, of the molecules found uniquely in living things. Other elements play important roles in biological molecules, but carbon certainly qualifies as the “foundation” element for molecules in living things. It is the bonding properties of carbon atoms that are responsible for its important role.

Carbon bonding

Carbon contains four electrons in its outer shell. Therefore, it can form four covalent bonds with other atoms or molecules. The simplest organic carbon molecule is methane (CH 4 ), in which four hydrogen atoms bind to a carbon atom ( [link] ).

Diagram of a methane molecule.
Carbon can form four covalent bonds to create an organic molecule. The simplest carbon molecule is methane (CH 4 ), depicted here.

However, structures that are more complex are made using carbon. Any of the hydrogen atoms can be replaced with another carbon atom covalently bonded to the first carbon atom. In this way, long and branching chains of carbon compounds can be made ( [link] a ). The carbon atoms may bond with atoms of other elements, such as nitrogen, oxygen, and phosphorus ( [link] b ). The molecules may also form rings, which themselves can link with other rings ( [link] c ). This diversity of molecular forms accounts for the diversity of functions of the biological macromolecules and is based to a large degree on the ability of carbon to form multiple bonds with itself and other atoms.

Examples of three different carbon-containing molecules.
These examples show three molecules (found in living organisms) that contain carbon atoms bonded in various ways to other carbon atoms and the atoms of other elements. (a) This molecule of stearic acid has a long chain of carbon atoms. (b) Glycine, a component of proteins, contains carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and hydrogen atoms. (c) Glucose, a sugar, has a ring of carbon atoms and one oxygen atom.


Carbohydrates are macromolecules with which most consumers are somewhat familiar. To lose weight, some individuals adhere to “low-carb” diets. Athletes, in contrast, often “carb-load” before important competitions to ensure that they have sufficient energy to compete at a high level. Carbohydrates are, in fact, an essential part of our diet; grains, fruits, and vegetables are all natural sources of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates provide energy to the body, particularly through glucose, a simple sugar. Carbohydrates also have other important functions in humans, animals, and plants.

Questions & Answers

must all prokaryotic cells posses a cell wall?
chris Reply
what is biology?
Cathy Reply
biology is basically the study of life
that's true
it's the study of living things
What is a celiac disease
Falase Reply
distinguish between properties and characteristics
Elee Reply
what are organelles
organelles are substances that makes up a cell
what is biology
Prevail Reply
biology is science that studies life
it's the study of living and non living things
now that we have an estimate for the diameter of the cell.what estimate can we make about the volume of the cell?
faxhood Reply
why too much insulin result in low blood sugar
Leri Reply
For example, too much exercise can cost you to lose to much weight. Too much insulin will pull to much sugar out of your systemic system into your cells.
difference between DNA and RNA
Eyitayo Reply
DNA is deoxyribonuclaic acid. Deoxy refers to a lack of oxygen. The Ribose moity is missing an OH group. I think it is missing from the second C of the ring. RNA is ribonucleic acid. DNA has our genetic code in on it. RNA is translated from DNA and carries the blue print for protein synthesis.
The OH group on RNA prevents it from being reactive. But it is very unstable though. Would you want such a power tool floating around in your body, no. And you have three types of RNA: mRNA, tRNA and rRNA. Please let me know it this helped?😄
Eric answered this question perfectly
what determines the aeration level in the soil
Shola Reply
what is homeostasis?
Sarita Reply
It means balance in a biological system.
What is biology
Don Reply
Biology z the study of life
what's biology
biology is the study of living nd none living organism
Biology is the study of life
yes Sir
what's cell biology
biology is the study of life
Biology is a science subject that deals with the study of living things and how they interact with there environment
what is asexual reproduction,?
Awoi Reply
A type of reproduction which does not involve the fusion of gametes or a change in the number of chromosomes
Reproduction without sex... In which form a single organism or cell makes a copy of itself.
Please explain the concept of mitosis and meiosis
I guess you could use it for study buddies and brushing up on what you need to
what is mitosis
Asexual reproduction?
why pepsin and trypsin released in active form?
mitosis is the type cell division in which two daughter cells have same no. of chormosomes
chromosome number remains the same in mitosis
Yrr help me.
Physical chemistry..... Koi h jo mujhe physical chem ki notes send kr ske
what is asexual reproduction
what makes golgi body in plants
Abdulkareem Reply
name the membrane of the plants
how can turners syndrome be corrected before birth
which animal survive from being preyed just because of being humble, slow, and not aggressive
Plants have golgi body's also. Plants are eukaryotic cells. And membrane bound organelles are a characteristic of eukaryotic cells. Moreover golgi body's are creatted from the ER. Also do not forget plants have plastids and animal cells do not.
During organs transplantation, the organs cannot be taken from just anybody since the graft would be rejected sooner or later due to
Liter Reply
Non-MHC compatibility on the organ and an attack from the patient's immune system.
what makes golgi body in plants
why trypsin and pepsin released in active form
Let us remember MHC'S on our cells. This is how our cells determine self from n o n s e l f. Transplanted tissue has to have a certain amount markers. These have to match to the recipiant's markers. Even with this, immunosuppresant medacine is prescribed to the recipient.
Even with these measures the body may still reject the transport. This can occur even after the recipient excepting the transport for some time.
what is integument system
Joy Reply
This system is our skin. This includes the skin lining our alimentary system which includes the tissue from our mouth to our anus. Our skin is our largest organ system. It is mostly made up of epithelial tissue.

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Source:  OpenStax, Concepts of biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11487/1.9
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