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Huyen Bui

Biological importance of water


Water is among the most important substance. With its chemical and physical properties, water enables the life activities in organisms, including photosynthesis, respiration and many other processes. Besides, water also plays the roles of the medium and reactants in important reactions as well as that of a shaping substance and a temperature stabiliser. Water is the integral component of the life. By mass, it accounts for 80% of the human body and from 70% to 95% of the cell. It is water that is the basis of transport of circulation of substances around the body. The life itself originated in water and as 75% of the Earth is covered by water, including oceans, river and streams, water provides multiple living environments for many different pieces. Though water is a covalent substance, a water molecule is polarized; because of the difference in the electronegativity of oxygen and that of hydrogen, the oxygen atom attracts the electron density of the bond and hence is slightly negatively charged while the two hydrogen atoms attract less electron density and are slightly positively charged. Due to its polarization, water can dissolve polar or ionic substances, many of which are vital for life, and keep them in aqueous solution but cannot dissolve nonpolar ones. This is essential to the life as water can dissolve sodium and potassium ions, which initiate the heartbeat. Besides, the polarization of water also causes hydrogen bonds between water molecules, which are weak but may have great strength if occur in large number. As water molecules are held closely together, both the melting and boiling points of water are higher than that of substances that have similar molecular size such as CO2, NH4 or H2S. This explains why in room temperature, these substances are gaseous whereas water is a liquid. Thanks to this property, in plants, water can go through xylem vessels in transpiration stream, bringing dissolved minerals and hence guarantee the continuous transport of minerals from the roots to the trunks and the leaves. Besides, water has strong hydrostatic forces, which provides support for not only plants but also some pieces. While, in plants, water creates turgor pressure, which maintains the plants rigidity and keeps them erect. In many cold-blooded organisms and soft-bodied animals, water forms hydrostatic skeleton, or hydroskeleton, which is indeed a fluid-filled cavity surrounded by muscles. Together with the action of the surrounding muscles, the pressure created by the fluid can change the organisms shape and produce movement. Therefore, the hydroskeleton is indispensable to the locomotion of echinoderms, cnidarians, annelids, nematodes as well as other invertebrates. Water plays the role of a solvent as many important biological reactions, including that in photosynthesis and respiration, take place in solution. Furthermore, it also plays the role of a reactant in hydrolysis reaction, in which molecules are split by adding water. Hydrolysis reactions are essential in many processes, including digestion of proteins, fat and carbohydrate as it result in the breakdown of large, polymer molecules into smaller one. Hydrolysis is important to organisms as it allows them to ultilise food taken in. In the opposite process of hydrolysis, known as condensation, water is produced as two or more monomers are combined, forming a larger one. Condensation reactions take place in the

formation of proteins, the main component of enzymes, fat, DNA, RNA, as well as many sugar and carbohydrate such as glycogen, starch or cellulose, which are widely used and stored by organisms. When water is broken down, hydrogen and oxygen are produced. Therefore, it is used in photosynthesis as the supply of hydrogen atoms. Photosynthesis uses hydrogen to produce glucose, which may then used for respiration or stored in plant cells as starch. Conversely, water is produced in respiration as a by-product. In this process, oxygen is the final receptor of hydrogen; as hydrogen is oxidized by oxygen, a large amount of energy is generated along with the production of water. Water has high specific heat capacity; this means it takes much energy and time to heat or cool water. As mentioned before, water makes up about 70% to 95% of the cell and hence, about 80% of the body mass, it helps maintain a constant body temperature and prevent fluctuations. This is very important to warm-blooded animals as large temperature fluctuations may results in the breakdown of vital processes and hence the collapse of the body. Furthermore, as water molecules are held up together by hydrogen bonds, water has high latent heat of evaporation as well as latent heat of fusion, which are very meaningful to animals and cells. While the high latent heat of evaporation allows animals to release a great deal of excess body heat into the environment at the price of a little water by sweating and panting, the high latent heat of fusion of water, which means that much heat should be lost to transform water from the liquid state to the solid state, makes it difficult for water to freeze. This fact is of significant importance to the living of cell because once the cytoplasm, which is mostly water, is frozen, the cell is irreversibly destroyed. Therefore, to living things, water has the major role of the temperature stabiliser. Water has many unique properties that allow it to present in all living organisms as well as in many biological processes, making it a substance of great biological importance.