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Amal Hulangamuwa (BSc) University of Sri Jayewardenepura


A carbohydrate is an organic compound that is composed of atoms of carbon,

hydrogen and oxygen in a ratio of 1 carbon atom, 2 hydrogen atoms, and 1
oxygen atom. Some carbohydrates are relatively small molecules, the most
important to us is glucose which has 6 carbon atoms. These simple sugars are
called monosaccharides.

Glucose - "blood sugar", the immediate source of energy for cellular respiration
Fructose - a sugar found in honey.
Galactose - a sugar in milk (and yogurt)
Sugars are most often found in the form of a "RING".
The image on the left shows two monosaccharides, Glucose
and Galactose (Gal). Examine their structure and you
will notice there is very little difference. Their molecular
formulas,C6H1206, are even the same. Molecules with
the same chemical formula, but different molecular
structures are called Isomers.

Glucose Structure

Glucose isomers

The primary function of carbohydrates is for short-term energy storage (sugars

are for Energy). A secondary function is intermediate-term energy storage (as in
starch for plants and glycogen for animals). Other carbohydrates are involved as
structural components in cells, such as cellulose which is found in the cell walls
of plants.
Hooking two monosaccharides together forms a more complex sugar, such as
the union of glucose and fructose to give sucrose, or common table sugar.
Compounds such as sucrose are called Disaccharides (two sugars). Both
monosaccharides and disaccharides are soluble in water.

The sugar subunits can be linked by the reaction, dehydration synthesis, to form
larger molecules. The disaccharide, Sucrose, is formed from two
disaccharide Lactose is
a dimer (two subunits) of Glucose and Galactose, the disaccharide Maltose is a
dimer of Glucose.
sucrose common table sugar =
lactose major sugar in milk =
maltose product of starch digestion =


The resulting linkage between the sugars is called a glycosidic bond. The
molecular formula of each of these disaccharides is

C12H22O11 = 2 C6H12O6 H2O

synthesis and hydrolysis of sucrose

Larger, more complex carbohydrates are formed by linking shorter units together
to form long or very long sugar chains called Polysaccharides. Because of their
size, these are often times not soluble in water. Many biologically important
compounds such as starches and cellulose are Polysaccharides. Starches are
used by plants, and glycogen by animals, to store energy in their numerous
carbon-hydrogen bonds, while cellulose is an important compound that adds
strength and stiffness to a plant's cell wall.
Large polymers of sugars are called Carbohydrates. Carbohydrates can be 100's
of sugars long and either straight or branched. The term Complex Carbohydrate,
or sometimes even just Carbohydrate refers to long chains of sugars. Three
common types of complex carbohydrates we will examine are: Starch, Cellulose,
and Glycogen. All three are composed only of Glucose. They differ only in the
bonding arrangements between the Glucose subunits. Not all complex
carbohydrates are composed of glucose alone, many have highly unusual sugars
in their chains.
Starch is a long (100's) polymer of Glucose molecules,
sugars are oriented in the same direction. Starch is one of
primary sources of calories for humans.

where all the


Two types are found:



amylose consists of linear, unbranched chains of

several hundred glucose residues (units). The
glucose residues are linked by a glycosidic bond
between their #1 and #4 carbon atoms.
amylopectin differs from amylose in being highly branched. At
approximately every thirtieth residue along the chain, a short side chain is
attached by a glycosidic bond to the #6 carbon atom.
Starches are insoluble in water and thus can serve as storage depots of
glucose. Plants convert excess glucose into starch for storage. Rice, wheat,
and corn (maize) are also major sources of starch in the human diet.

Glycogen is another Glucose polymer.

Glycogen is a stored energy source,
found in the Liver and muscles of
Humans. Glycogen is different from
both Starch and Cellulose in that the
Glucose chain is branched.
Animals store excess glucose by
polymerizing it to form glycogen. The
structure of glycogen is similar to that of
amylopectin, although the branches in
glycogen tend to be shorter and more
frequent. Glycogen is broken back down
into glucose when energy is needed (a
process called glycogenolysis).

Cellulose is a long (100's) polymer of Glucose molecules. However the

orientation of the sugars is a little different. In Cellulose, every other sugar
molecule is "upside-down". This small difference in structure makes a big
difference in the way we use this molecule.

Cellulose is a polymer made of repeating glucose molecules attached end to end

(Thus cellulose is an example of a polysaccharide.). A cellulose molecule may be
from several hundred to over 10,000 glucose units long.

Cellulose is similar in form to complex carbohydrates like starch and glycogen.

These polysaccharides are also made from multiple subunits of glucose. The
difference between cellulose and other complex carbohydrate molecules is how
the glucose molecules are linked together. In addition, cellulose is a straight
chain polymer, and each cellulose molecule is long and rod-like. This differs from
starch, which is a coiled molecule. A result of these differences in structure is
that, compared to starch and other carbohydrates, cellulose cannot be broken
down into its glucose subunits by any enzymes produced by animals.

Lipids are very diverse in both their respective structures and functions. These
diverse compounds that make up the lipid family are so grouped because they
are insoluble in water. They are however soluble in other organic solvents such
as ether, acetone and other lipids. Major lipid groups include fats, phospholipids,
steroids and waxes.
Each type of lipid has a slightly different structure, but they all possess a large
number of C - H bonds which makes them a primarily non-polar group of
molecules. All the C-H bonds also make them very Energy-rich.
Lipids: Fats
Fats are composed of three fatty acids and glycerol. These triglycerides can be
solid or liquid at room temperature. Those that are solid are classified as fats,
while those that are liquid are known as oils. Fatty acids consist of a long chain of
carbons with a carboxyl group at one end. Depending on their structure, fatty
acids can be saturated or unsaturated. While fats have been denigrated to the
point that many believe that fat should be eliminated from the diet, fat serves
many useful purposes. Fats store energy, help to insulate the body and cushion
and protect organs.


Lipids: Phospholipids
A phospholipid is composed of two fatty acids, a
a phosphate group and a polar molecule.
The phosphate group and polar head
region of the molecule is hydrophillic
(attracted to water), while the fatty acid
hydrophobic (repelled by water). When
placed in water, phospholipids will orient
themselves into a bilayer in which the
nonpolar tail region faces the inner area of
bilayer. The polar head region faces
outward and interacts with the water.
Phospholipids are a major component of cell
membranes which enclose the cytoplasm and other contents of

glycerol unit,

tail is


a cell.

Lipids: Steroids and Waxes

Steroids have a carbon backbone that consists of four fused ring-like structures.
Steroids include cholesterol, sex hormones (progesterone, estrogen and
testosterone) and cortisone. Waxes are comprised of an ester of a long-chain
alcohol and a fatty acid. Many plants have leaves and fruits with wax coatings to
help prevent water loss. Some animals also have wax-coated fur or feathers to
repel water. Unlike most waxes, ear wax is composed of phospholipids and esters
of cholesterol.