Intelligent Design, the best explanation of Origins

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Intelligent Design, the best explanation of Origins » Molecular biology of the cell » Cell Chemistry and Bioenergetics

Cell Chemistry and Bioenergetics

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1Cell Chemistry and Bioenergetics Empty Cell Chemistry and Bioenergetics on Thu Aug 13, 2015 2:21 pm


Cell Chemistry and Bioenergetics

The chemistry of life is indeed special. First, it is based overwhelmingly on carbon compounds, the study of which is known as organic chemistry. Second, cells are 70% water, and life depends largely on chemical reactions that take place in aqueous solution. Third, and most important, cell chemistry is enormously complex: even the simplest cell is vastly more complicated in its chemistry than any other chemical system known. In particular, although cells contain a variety of small carbon-containing molecules, most of the carbon atoms present are incorporated into enormous polymeric molecules—chains of chemical subunits linked end-to-end. It is the unique properties of these macromolecules that enable cells and organisms to grow and reproduce—as well as to do all the other things that are characteristic of life.

The Chemical Components of a Cell

Living organisms are made of only a small selection of the 92 naturally occurring elements, four of which—carbon (C), hydrogen (H), nitrogen (N), and oxygen (O)—make up 96.5% of an organism’s weight. The atoms of these elements are linked together by covalent bonds to form molecules. Because covalent bonds are typically 100 times stronger than the thermal energies within a cell, they resist being pulled apart by thermal motions, and they are normally broken only during specific chemical reactions with other atoms and molecules. Two different molecules can be held together by noncovalent bonds, which are much weaker . noncovalent bonds are important in the many situations where molecules have to associate and dissociate readily to carry out their biological functions.

Water Is Held Together by Hydrogen Bonds

In each water molecule (H2O) the two H atoms are linked to the O atom by covalent bonds. The two bonds are highly polar because the O is strongly attractive for electrons, whereas the H is only weakly attractive. Consequently, there is an unequal distribution of electrons in a water molecule, with a preponderance of positive charge on the two H atoms and of negative charge on the O. When a positively charged region of one water molecule (that is, one of its H atoms) approaches a negatively charged region (that is, the O) of a second water molecule, the electrical attraction between them can result in a hydrogen bond. These bonds are much weaker than covalent bonds and are easily broken by the random thermal motions that reflect the heat energy of the molecules. Thus, each bond lasts only a short time. But the combined effect of many weak bonds can be
profound. For example, each water molecule can form hydrogen bonds through its two H atoms to two other water molecules, producing a network in which hydrogen bonds are being continually broken and formed. It is only because of the hydrogen bonds that link water molecules together that water is a liquid at room temperature—with a high boiling point and high surface tension—rather than a gas.

Molecules, such as alcohols, that contain polar bonds and that can form hydrogen bonds with water dissolve readily in water. Molecules carrying charges (ions) likewise interact favorably with water. Such molecules are termed hydrophilic, meaning that they are water-loving. Many of the molecules in the aqueous environment of a cell necessarily fall into this category, including sugars, DNA, RNA, and most proteins. Hydrophobic (water-hating) molecules, by contrast, are uncharged and form few or no hydrogen bonds, and so do not dissolve in water. Hydrocarbons are an important example. In these molecules all of the H atoms are covalently linked to C atoms by a largely nonpolar bond; thus they cannot form effective hydrogen bonds to other molecules. This makes the hydrocarbon as a whole hydrophobic—a property that is exploited in cells, whose membranes are constructed from molecules that have long hydrocarbon tails

All organic molecules are synthesized from and are broken down into the same set of simple compounds. As a consequence, the compounds in a cell are chemically related and most can be classified into a few distinct families. Broadly speaking, cells contain four major families of small organic molecules: the sugars, the fatty acids, the nucleotides, and the amino acids

Cell Chemistry and Bioenergetics Slide_11

The four main families of small organic molecules in cells. These small molecules form the monomeric building blocks, or subunits, for most of the macromolecules and other assemblies of the cell. Some, such as the sugars and the fatty acids, are also energy sources.

Proteins are abundant and spectacularly versatile, performing thousands of distinct functions in cells. Many proteins serve as enzymes, the catalysts that facilitate the many covalent bond-making and bond-breaking reactions that the cell needs. Enzymes catalyze all of the reactions whereby cells extract energy from food molecules, for example, and an enzyme called ribulose bisphosphate carboxylase helps to convert CO2 to sugars in photosynthetic organisms, producing most of the organic matter needed for life on Earth. Other proteins are used to build structural components, such as tubulin, a protein that self-assembles to make the cell’s long microtubules, or histones, proteins that compact the DNA in chromosomes.

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