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Astro 2037 Spring 07, Lecture 25

Living cells are carbon-based
Chemical composition of the human body by weight • This composition is fairly typical of all living matter on Earth • Most of the oxygen in living cells is actually part of water • The molecules that account for a cell’s structure and function owe their remarkable qualities to Carbon. Therefore, we refer to life on Earth as being Carbon-based.

Explanations: • The large amount of hydrogen and oxygen in living organisms follows naturally from the high percentage of water that all life contains. creating chains and rings that can incorporate other elements Carbon dioxide Hydrogen cyanide (HCN) • Carbon is a particularly versatile chemical element because it can bond to from one to four atoms at a time . consistent with abundant water at the Earth’s surface • Carbon becomes a critical element for life because it has a remarkable ability to form bonds with other carbon atoms.

Diagrams represent several relatively simple hydrocarbons – organic molecules consisting of a carbon skeletons attached to hydrogen atoms .

have become dominant elements for forming life! • Due to the kinship of life elements similar to stars. and contain the information needed for an organism to reproduce • Nitrogen and oxygen atoms each have the property of being able to share more than one electron with a carbon atom.• Complex molecules centered on carbon can form the structures of cells. allowing nitrogen and oxygen to form double bonds with carbon that are strong but breakable • The possibility of such chemical bonds. and oxygen to form an extraordinary variety of stable molecules • Nitrogen has the additional ability to form a relatively inert. together with the ability of carbon atoms to link with one another in many ways. promote chemical reactions. life could be a common phenomena in the universe! . nitrogen. oxygen. nitrogen and hydrogen. allows carbon. due their chemical properties. store energy. highly volatile gas that aids in cycling this element between organisms and their environment • Oxygen atoms can easily combine with other atoms and molecules in chemical compounds that release energy as they form • Carbon.

As a result. which is also generally thought to be necessary to life (3) Unlike carbon. This limits the range of chemical reactions that silicon-based molecules can engage in as well as the variety of molecular structures that can form . instead. which can also four chemical bonds with other elements • However.Could life elsewhere be based on something else? • The most likely element that can possibly replace carbon is silicon. silicon has at least two strikes against it as a basis for life (1) The bonds formed by silicon are significantly weaker than equivalent bonds formed by carbon. probably too fragile to form the structural components of living cells (2) Complex silicon-based molecules cannot exist long in water. it forms only single bonds. silicon does not normally form double bonds. complex molecule bonds formed by silicon are more fragile than those based on carbon.

the carbohydrate that animals use most to store energy. which can join together in a repetitive sequence to become components of larger. more complex molecules called polymers Glycogen. is a polymer–a long. Each glucose molecule (monomer) contains 22 atoms . branched chain.Biologically Important Compounds Most life forms consist of a small number of types of rather simple molecules called monomers.

nucleotides.The most important monomers are the amino acids • Amino acids form proteins. never right-handed. variety • This distinctive property of life on Earth might arise by chance! . and sugars • Nucleotides form the cross-links in the DNA molecules that carry the genetic code • Sugars provide large structural and energy-storing molecules • Amino acids have left-handed and right-handed form • All of the amino-acid monomers found in life on Earth are of the lefthanded.

Biochemistry and Origins of Life on Earth • 20 amino acids among ~ 70 available are commonly used in living organisms to make proteins • They all share identical components (shaded portions) • Polymers of amino acids (proteins) can fold into elaborate. highly complex but extremely specific and reproducible shapes. • An average protein molecule consists of a few hundred amino-acid monomers • Most living organisms make and use fewer than 10.000 types of protein molecules • Life shows an extraordinary selectivity in the kind of molecule that it uses .

skinny polymer called DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) governs the process of reproduction • DNA molecules store genetic information that tells the next generation of organisms how to carry out metabolism. the famed double helix of molecular biology • The monomers that bond together to form each strand of DNA are called nucleotides . and to reproduce • Each DNA molecule contains two strands. to grow.The most basic property of life: The capability to reproduce • A certain kind of long.

and thymine (T) . cytosine (C). guanine (G).The four monomers that form the cross links in DNA molecules have the collective name of nucleotides • All four have the same sugar and phosphate portions • The nucleotides differ in the base that bonds to the sugars and phosphates • Living organisms on earth choose four nitrogenous bases: adenine (A).

G only with C . bases are connected to each other to form “steps”.• The sugar and phosphate portions of the monomers connect to one another to form the “railing” • The bases appear inside these two strands. A pairs only with T.

Cells: nuclei DNA .