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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

what is micro-organism
Jackson Reply
what is the hypothesis
Jackson
hypothesis is a proposed explanation for a phenomenon
Miriam
hypothesis is raw materials
KP
what is biology
KP
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
Miriam
there are other dangerous diseases like CAD i.e coronary artery disease
Miriam
what is matter
Thomas Reply
it is any thing that has weight and occupies space
Anye
matter is any substances that occupies spaces and has mass
Jackson
describe photosynthesis
Mavis Reply
What is equilibrium
Mavis
What is equilibrium
Mavis
like corporal intern balance right?
FRANCISCA
on my own understanding is just a balanced state
Stanley
photosynthesis is the process by which plants and other organisms convert light energy to chemical energy
Miriam
what is a chromosome?
Wise Reply
Are thread-like structures located inside the nucleus of animal and plant cells.
Canab
thx
Wise
what are the difference between Biotic community and Ecological nitche.
Ganiyat Reply
what is the celll
KAMOLIKA Reply
A cell is the simplest bit of living matter that exist independently
Ganiyat
cell is the basic unit of life
Shadrack
what is ecdysis
Shadrack
what is genetics
Sebastian Reply
The cell is the simplest bit of living matter that can exist independently.
Ganiyat
what happenes when the cell of an organism Is removed?
Isaac Reply
The cell will not function properly
Eunice
what is cell
Maarig Reply
cell is stractural and functional unit of our human body.
Rohini
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
Kenneth
is the movement of substances across a membrane against the concentration gradient by using energy.
Wise
what is living things
Aminu Reply
these are organisms that take in respiratory gases e.g plants and animals
Kenneth
they are organisms that undergoe the various life processes such as growth, respiration, reproduction, excretion etc
Miriam
what is gland
Igwe
an organ synthesizes a substance such as hormones or breast milk
Brenden
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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