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Biological Molecules

Source: and

Compounds in living organisms

A nutrient is a substance which is needed for growth, repair and
metabolism. The three main nutrients are:



lipids (fats and oils)

These nutrients are all examples of organic chemicals. This means that
they all contain carbon atoms, covalently bonded to the atoms of other

Carbon, C

Hydrogen, H

Oxygen, O

Nitrogen, N




You can see from the table that these nutrients contain carbon, hydrogen
and oxygen.
Proteins also contain nitrogen, and sometimes sulfur.
Also, note that these nutrients contain hydrogen atoms, H, and not
hydrogen gas, H2.

The basic units of carbohydrates are simple sugars, such as glucose and
fructose. These are also called monosaccharides.

Glucose and fructose have the same molecular formula, C6H12O6. However,
their structure is different.

1. The structure of glucose

1. The structure of fructose

Sucrose is a disaccharide. It consists of two monosaccharides, glucose
and fructose, joined together.


Starch (found in plants) and glycogen (found in animals) are

polysaccharides. They consist of many glucose molecules joined

Lipids are fats and oils. Lipids are large molecules made from smaller
units of fatty acids and glycerol.

The structure of a lipid molecule

In the diagram, you can see how three long chains of carbon atoms are
attached to a glycerol molecule, with its three carbon atoms. Together
they combine to make one lipid molecule.


Proteins are large molecules made from smaller units of amino acids.

The structure of two amino acids

There are only about 20 different naturally-occurring amino acids.
However, each protein molecule has hundreds, or even thousands, of
them joined together in a unique sequence and folded into the correct
shape. This gives each protein its own individual properties.

A molecular model of haemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells

Nucleic Acids
Nucleic Acids that make up DNA and RNA are also biological Molecules. Like many biological molecules nucleic
acids are polymers, long molecules formed of repeating units. With nucleic acids, the repeating unit is the
nucleotide. A nucleotide consists of a five carbon sugar, a nitrogen containing base and a phosphate group. The
two primary kinds of nucleic acids, deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA), possess slightly
different sugars in their respective nucleotides and a different set of four bases which may be contained by
their nucleotides.

DNA Nucleotide

RNA nucleotide

The structure of a section of an RNA molecule.

Note the presence of a hydroxyl group on the 2' carbon of the sugar moety.

Adenine DNA and RNA

Guanine DNA and RNA

Cytosine DNA and RNA

Uracil RNA only

Thymine DNA and RNA


An enzyme is a protein that functions as a biological catalyst a

substance that speeds up a chemical reaction without being changed by
the reaction.
Lock and key model

Enzymes are folded into complex shapes that allow smaller molecules to
fit into them. The place where these molecules fit is called theactive site.
In the lock and key model, the shape of the active site matches the
shape of its substrate molecules. This makes enzymes highlyspecific
each type of enzyme can catalyse only one type of reaction (or just a few
types of reactions).
The diagram shows how this works. In this example, the enzyme splits one
molecule into two smaller ones, but other enzymes join small molecules
together to make a larger one.

If the shape of the enzyme changes, its active site may no longer work.
We say that the enzyme has been denatured. Enzymes can be denatured
by high temperatures or extremes of pH.
Effect of temperature

As with ordinary chemical reactions, the rate of an enzyme-catalysed

reaction increases as the temperature increases. However, at high
temperatures the rate decreases again because the enzyme becomes
denatured and can no longer function as a biological catalyst.

Effect of pH

Changes in pH alter the shape of an enzymes active site. Different

enzymes work best at different pH values.
The optimum pH for an enzyme depends on where it normally works. For
example, intestinal enzymes have an optimum pH of about 7.5, but
stomach enzymes have an optimum pH of about 2.

Chemical and physical tests

There are different tests which can be used to detect carbohydrates,
proteins and lipids.

Starch is detected using iodine solution. This turns blue-black in the
presence of starch.

Testing potato for starch

Reducing sugars are detected using Benedicts solution. Reducing
sugars include:

monosaccharides - such as glucose and fructose

disaccharides - such as maltose

Benedicts solution gradually turns from blue to cloudy orange or brick red
when heated with a reducing sugar. Sucrose is a non-reducing sugar and
does not react with Benedicts solution.

Proteins are detected using Biuret reagent. This turns a mauve or purple
colour when mixed with protein.

Lipids are detected using the emulsion test. This is what happens:
1. the test substance is mixed with 2 cm3 of ethanol
2. an equal volume of distilled water is added
3. a milky-white emulsion forms if the test substance contains lipids