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Chemical Composition of Organisms

Basic Chemical Properties; an Introduction

All things are made from matter and although you may not always be able to see
matter (as in the case of air), it is all around us. So what are in these substances of
matter that are all around us? Atoms.

Atoms are exceptionally small units made up of three basic subatomic particles;
protons, electrons, and neutrons.

Each atom becomes different from the next by having different number
combinations of these subatomic particles. The different numbers of protons,
electrons and neutrons determine different elements or in other words a pure
substance made from a solitary kind of atom.

Every element has different qualities or physical characteristics for example oxygen
and gold. The former is a gas that is one of many elements making up organic
matter. Where as the latter is solid and inert (a non-reactionary element).

Simple Chemical Reactions

When two or more elements come in contact with one another, a reaction takes
place which results in a chemical bond or link between the atoms and it forms a
substance, a chemical compound.

We discovered briefly in the introduction that inert (or noble gasses) means non-
reactionary. These elements; helium, neon, argon, krypton, xenon, and radon have a
special electron configuration which makes them very stable. Their valence shell or
exterior shell is complete and full. Other elements try to achieve this stability by
reacting with each other and sharing electrons from their outer most shells.

All of these chemical reactions also experience a change in energy. Some release
energy (exothermic) and some absorb it (endothermic). Some of them are called
spontaneous reactions and occur as soon as the two elements come in contact with
one another. Others require activation energy to begin the chemical reaction
process.

There are 2 different types of chemical bonding; ionic and covalent. With the former,
electrons are transferred completely from one atom to the other in order to
complete the valence shells of each atom. The two atoms are then held together by
electrostatic forces. These ionic bonds are always formed between metals and
nonmetals. They dissolve easily in water and then can conduct electricity efficiently.

With covalent bonding the atoms don t give up their electrons freely but share
them and this is because both atoms have a related tendency to gain electrons.
This usually happens between two nonmetals. When the electrons are shared the
ionic charge doesnt exist and therefore the molecules can move freely as a
liquid or gas when kept at room temperature.

Properties of Water

Water is made up of one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms (H2O). The hydrogen
atoms are bonded covalently to the oxygen by a shared pair of electrons. There are
also two unshared pairs of electrons remaining on the outer shell of the oxygen
molecule.

Water has 3 states. The solid state occurs below freezing (as ice or snowflakes).
Between freezing and boiling temperatures water is a liquid and above boiling,
water becomes a gas.

Water contracts until it reaches four degrees Celsius and then it expands until it
becomes solid. This is contrary to most liquids which generally contract with a
temperature decrease. Because of this, solid water is less dense than liquid water
and that is why ice floats. This unique quality is due to the hydrogen bonds. Holding
the molecules further apart as a solid is a result of having 1 less hydrogen bond per
molecule. Hydrogen bonding also allows water to display nearly universal solvent
properties.

Water molecules are attracted to other water molecules. This is due to the fact that
the oxygen side of water has a negative charge and the hydrogen side has a
positive charge and it is called cohesion. When water is attracted to other materials
in this way it is called adhesion.
For more information and diagrams click here.

Chemical Structures of Carbohydrates, Lipids, Proteins, and Nucleic Acids

Carbs
Carbohydrates are the first category of organic compounds or organic chemistry.
Carbohydrates are essentially made up of three elements; carbon, hydrogen, and
oxygen and they generally taste sweet to people.

When a carbohydrate is comprised of one molecule it is called a monosaccharide. If


it is made from two that are connected then it is referred to as a disaccharide. When
there are three or more molecules we call them polysaccharides.

Glucose, which is represented as C6H12O6, is basically an energy used in all living


things. It dissolves in blood and or water. Because of this, it can be carried to all
cells in the body. After it is metabolized in cells, it delivers energy. Glucose is also
present in plant matter and is the dominant product of photosynthesis.

Next, we will discuss lipids which are also known as fats.

Lipids
Lipids are made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen as well. However, lipids contain
less oxygen than carbohydrates. The three main kinds of lipids are as follows;
simple lipids (fats and oils), compound lipids (glycolipids and phospholipids), and
derived lipids (steroid).

Lipids cannot be emulsified in water however can dissolve in organic solvents such
as ether or chloroform. They can also be broken down into fatty acids and glycerol
which can eventually break down more to produce more energy.

Proteins
The chemical compounds required for the process of life are known as proteins.
They are massive, complex molecules each made up of thousands of atoms. Again
containing the three main elements; carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. They also
contain nitrogen but can also include sulfur and phosphorus. All living things are
composed of proteins.

Nucleic Acids
There are two types of nucleic acids; DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid) and RNA
(Ribonucleic Acid). These are the basis of cellular reproduction and division.

A cells DNA contains the genetic blueprint in a catalogued form and is only existent
in the nucleus of the cells made from DNA. RNA is present in the nucleus of the cell
and the cytoplasm.
The two differ from each other in that DNA has deoxyribose and RNA has ribose. As
well, the types of nitrogen bases in each are slightly different.
The Origin of Life
The conundrum of the chicken and the egg is paramount when considering
life itself. How did life begin? Science dictates that our universe evolved and each
structure became increasingly complex through a series of anomalies. Galaxies,
starts and atoms were assembled out of particles created The Big Bang. First the
heavier elements were developed from stars. After these stars started to age they
pushed out the heaviest elements. Finally, biological evolution began from
microscopic bacteria-like cells. These became the basis of all life on earth. Simpler
structures bore more complex ones and this cycle continued until today. Organic
molecules were the building blocks for the origin of life and are thought to have
existed in an elemental soup created by the BIG BANG.
It is assumed now that the current DNA/protein system we know and understand
today was not possible as one cannot exist without the other. (Back to the chicken
and egg dilemma) However, scientists believe RNA acted as a precursor to both. In
a way, it can function as both catalyst (like a protein) and as a genetic code carrier.
Composition of living things (II)

Biomolecules are molecules that are exclusive in living organims. Scientist sort
out biomolecules into carbohydrates, lipids, proteins and nucleic acids.

Carbohydrates or saccharide (sugars) they carry out two important function :


Some of them provide energy to cells such as starch in plants or glycogen in
animals whereas others are found in structures such as plant cell wall
(cellulose) or exoesqueleton in insects (quitin).
Carbohydrates contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen they can be found in
bread, pasta and cereals.

Lipids: Include fats, oils, waxes. The main biological function is energy
reserves for living things. They are the components of cell walls
(phospholipids). Lipids containcarbon, hydrogen and oxygen but have far less
oxygen proportionally than carbohydrates. Lipids can be found in foods such as
oil and butter.

Proteins are the major component of the dry weight of cells. They are
complex molecules made up of carbon, hydrogen,
oxygen and nitrogen (sometimes sulphur andphosphorus). They provide
structure, protection to the body of multicellular organism in the form of skin,
hair, callus, cartilage, ligaments, muscles, tendons. Proteins regulate and
catalyze the body chemistry in the form of hormones, enzymes,
immunoglobulins etc. they are used in the growth and repair of tissue and
intervene in chemical reactions (enzymes). Therefore proteins can perform
many functions inside the cells support the cell shape (scaffolding), carry out
contraction in muscle (myosin and actin). Amino acids are the building blocks
of proteins. Proteins can be found in meat, milk, eggs, seefood.

Nucleic acids are in charge of storing genetic information. They are needed for
reproduction. Nucleotides are the building blocks of nucleic acids. DNA, RNA or
ATP (currency energy).