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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Discuss the role of carbohydrates in cells and in the extracellular materials of animals and plants
  • Explain the classifications of carbohydrates
  • List common monosaccharides, disaccharides, and polysaccharides

Most people are familiar with carbohydrates, one type of macromolecule, especially when it comes to what we eat. To lose weight, some individuals adhere to “low-carb” diets. Athletes, in contrast, often “carb-load” before important competitions to ensure that they have enough 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 that is a component of starch    and an ingredient in many staple foods. Carbohydrates also have other important functions in humans, animals, and plants.

Molecular structures

Carbohydrates can be represented by the stoichiometric formula (CH 2 O) n , where n is the number of carbons in the molecule. In other words, the ratio of carbon to hydrogen to oxygen is 1:2:1 in carbohydrate molecules. This formula also explains the origin of the term “carbohydrate”: the components are carbon (“carbo”) and the components of water (hence, “hydrate”). Carbohydrates are classified into three subtypes: monosaccharides, disaccharides, and polysaccharides.


Monosaccharides (mono- = “one”; sacchar- = “sweet”) are simple sugars, the most common of which is glucose. In monosaccharides, the number of carbons usually ranges from three to seven. Most monosaccharide names end with the suffix -ose. If the sugar has an aldehyde group (the functional group with the structure R-CHO), it is known as an aldose, and if it has a ketone group (the functional group with the structure RC(=O)R'), it is known as a ketose. Depending on the number of carbons in the sugar, they also may be known as trioses (three carbons), pentoses (five carbons), and or hexoses (six carbons). See [link] for an illustration of the monosaccharides.

The molecular structures of glyceraldehyde, an aldose, and dihydroxyacetone, a ketose, are shown. Both sugars have a three-carbon backbone. Glyceraldehyde has a carbonyl group (c double bonded to O) at one end of the carbon chain with hydroxyl (OH) groups attached to the other carbons. Dihydroxyacetone has a carbonyl group in the middle of the chain and alcohol groups at each end. The molecular structures of linear forms of ribose, a pentose, and glucose, a hexose, are also shown. Both ribose and glucose are aldoses with a carbonyl group at the end of chain,and hydroxyl groups attached to the other carbons.
Monosaccharides are classified based on the position of their carbonyl group and the number of carbons in the backbone. Aldoses have a carbonyl group (indicated in green) at the end of the carbon chain, and ketoses have a carbonyl group in the middle of the carbon chain. Trioses, pentoses, and hexoses have three, five, and six carbon backbones, respectively.

The chemical formula for glucose is C 6 H 12 O 6 . In humans, glucose is an important source of energy. During cellular respiration, energy is released from glucose, and that energy is used to help make adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Plants synthesize glucose using carbon dioxide and water, and glucose in turn is used for energy requirements for the plant. Excess glucose is often stored as starch that is catabolized (the breakdown of larger molecules by cells) by humans and other animals that feed on plants.

Galactose (part of lactose, or milk sugar) and fructose (found in sucrose, in fruit) are other common monosaccharides. Although glucose, galactose, and fructose all have the same chemical formula (C 6 H 12 O 6 ), they differ structurally and chemically (and are known as isomers) because of the different arrangement of functional groups around the asymmetric carbon; all of these monosaccharides have more than one asymmetric carbon ( [link] ).

Questions & Answers

what is micro-organism
Jackson Reply
what is the hypothesis
hypothesis is a proposed explanation for a phenomenon
hypothesis is raw materials
what is biology
what does mean stigma
Amira Reply
what is the full of the MOST dangerous disease in the world where one stops sleeping and just dies :Hint ; FFI
God Reply
fatal familial insomnia which affects the thalamus
there are other dangerous diseases like CAD i.e coronary artery disease
what is matter
Thomas Reply
it is any thing that has weight and occupies space
matter is any substances that occupies spaces and has mass
describe photosynthesis
Mavis Reply
What is equilibrium
What is equilibrium
like corporal intern balance right?
on my own understanding is just a balanced state
photosynthesis is the process by which plants and other organisms convert light energy to chemical energy
what is a chromosome?
Wise Reply
Are thread-like structures located inside the nucleus of animal and plant cells.
what are the difference between Biotic community and Ecological nitche.
Ganiyat Reply
what is the celll
A cell is the simplest bit of living matter that exist independently
cell is the basic unit of life
what is ecdysis
what is genetics
Sebastian Reply
The cell is the simplest bit of living matter that can exist independently.
what happenes when the cell of an organism Is removed?
Isaac Reply
The cell will not function properly
what is cell
Maarig Reply
cell is stractural and functional unit of our human body.
The study of cells are referred to as?
Kenneth Reply
what is active transport
johnny Reply
is the movement of molecules through a semi permeable membrane with the use of energy
is the movement of substances across a membrane against the concentration gradient by using energy.
what is living things
Aminu Reply
these are organisms that take in respiratory gases e.g plants and animals
they are organisms that undergoe the various life processes such as growth, respiration, reproduction, excretion etc
what is gland
an organ synthesizes a substance such as hormones or breast milk
Why do plants contain oxygen
Alfonso 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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