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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 hominids
Dauba Reply
what is genetics
Musa Reply
what is meiosis?
Musa
list three vertebrate animal and three invertebrate animal
Katie Reply
lizard, goat, frog ,earthworm, housefly, tapeworm
idoko
what is meant by radial symmetry?
Boadi
what is meaning of polysaccharide
mark Reply
water as a function in cell for inorganic substances
chisom Reply
hi john....wat about for mineral salts, its function in a cell and structure
chisom
hi chisom which topic is this
Ezeh
what is sepsis
Dauba
this biology is for which grade?
Janet Reply
A1
Boadi
state any one specialized animal cell and it's function
Pascal Reply
sperm cell: Fertilization
Tshering
Can DNA and RNA be praticalized
Oyewale Reply
you can make models of them and show how they replicate
Oswald
what is dentition
Tisa Reply
Study of teeths and their functions
Stanisla
what are the function
Tisa
it's not teeths. teeth is plural as well as singular noun. the function of the teeth is to cut and grind food for easier swallowing and for increasing the surface area if the fish as the substrate in which digestive enzymes work
Oswald
dentition is not the study of teeth but the arrangement of teeth in the mouth of species or individuals
Oswald
what are the two types of teeth
Tisa
upper lower jaw and upper jaw teeth
Dauba
Function of probosis
Adeola Reply
why do we study biology?
SYDNEY Reply
where biology began
Alhaji
What are chromesome
Talkmore Reply
condensed DNA wrapped with histone
Elias
chromosomes are gins that we take from our parents.when mom get pregnant the baby inside is made up of 23 chromosomes from his dad and 23 chromosomes from his mom.so a baby is made up of totally 46 chromosomes
ezera
chromosome are rod or thread shape body located in the nucleus of a cell.
Alhaji
what are chromosomes
Persiviour
what is chromosome?
Royd Reply
How can a person who has been in the vascular disease repairs his or her DNA
Rabson Reply
i need its explanation sir..pls provid na...🙁
Shaf Reply
Of wat
John
explanation for wat
Christian
Of war na so dat I can provide
John
Is d process which food is converted into substance dat can be utilize by d body
John

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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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