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  • Chapter 4Biological Macromolecules: Large Molecules of Life

    Figure_03_00_01.jpg
    Figure 4.1
    Foods such as bread, fruit, and cheese are rich sources of biological macromolecules. (credit: modification of work by Bengt Nyman)

    Introduction*

    Food provides the body with the nutrients it needs to survive. Many of these critical nutrients are biological macromolecules, or large molecules, necessary for life. These macromolecules (polymers) are built from different combinations of smaller organic molecules (monomers). What specific types of biological macromolecules do living things require? How are these molecules formed? What functions do they serve? In this chapter, these questions will be explored.

    4.1Synthesis of Biological Macromolecules*

    By the end of this section, you will be able to:

    • Understand the synthesis of macromolecules

    • Explain dehydration (or condensation) and hydrolysis reactions

    As you’ve learned, biological macromolecules are large molecules, necessary for life, that are built from smaller organic molecules. There are four major classes of biological macromolecules (carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids); each is an important cell component and performs a wide array of functions. Combined, these molecules make up the majority of a cell’s dry mass (recall that water makes up the majority of its complete mass). Biological macromolecules are organic, meaning they contain carbon. In addition, they may contain hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and additional minor elements.

    Dehydration Synthesis

    Most macromolecules are made from single subunits, or building blocks, called monomers. The monomers combine with each other using covalent bonds to form larger molecules known as polymers. In doing so, monomers release water molecules as byproducts. This type of reaction is known as dehydration synthesis, which means “to put together while losing water.”

    Figure_03_01_01.jpg
    Figure 4.2
    In the dehydration synthesis reaction depicted above, two molecules of glucose are linked together to form the disaccharide maltose. In the process, a water molecule is formed.

    In a dehydration synthesis reaction (Figure 4.2), the hydrogen of one monomer combines with the hydroxyl group of another monomer, releasing a molecule of water. At the same time, the monomers share electrons and form covalent bonds. As additional monomers join, this chain of repeating monomers forms a polymer. Different types of monomers can combine in many configurations, giving rise to a diverse group of macromolecules. Even one kind of monomer can combine in a variety of ways to form several different polymers: for example, glucose monomers are the constituents of starch, glycogen, and cellulose.

    Hydrolysis

    Polymers are broken down into monomers in a process known as hydrolysis, which means “to split water,” a reaction in which a water molecule is used during the breakdown (Figure 4.3). During these reactions, the polymer is broken into two components: one part gains a hydrogen atom (H+) and the other gains a hydroxyl molecule (OH–) from a split water molecule.

    Figure_03_01_02.jpg
    Figure 4.3
    In the hydrolysis reaction shown here, the disaccharide maltose is broken down to form two glucose monomers with the addition of a water molecule. Note that this reaction is the reverse of the synthesis reaction shown in Figure 4.2.

    Dehydration and hydrolysis reactions are catalyzed, or “sped up,” by specific enzymes; dehydration reactions involve the formation of new bonds, requiring energy, while hydrolysis reactions break bonds and release energy. These reactions are similar for most macromolecules, but each monomer and polymer reaction is specific for its class. For example, in our bodies, food is hydrolyzed, or broken down, into smaller molecules by catalytic enzymes in the digestive system. This allows for easy absorption of nutrients by cells in the intestine. Each macromolecule is broken down by a specific enzyme. For instance, carbohydrates are broken down by amylase, sucrase, lactase, or maltase. Proteins are broken down by the enzymes pepsin and peptidase, and by hydrochloric acid. Lipids are broken down by lipases. Breakdown of these macromolecules provides energy for cellular activities.

    Link to Learning
    hydrolysis.png

    Visit this site to see visual representations of dehydration synthesis and hydrolysis.

    4.2Carbohydrates*

    By the end of this section, you will be able to:

    • Discuss the role of carbohydrates in cells and in the extracellular materials of animals and plants

    • Explain the classifications of carbohydrates

    • List common monosaccharides, disaccharides, and polysaccharides

    Most people are familiar with carbohydrates, one type of macromolecule, especially when it comes to what we eat. To lose weight, some individuals adhere to “low-carb” diets. Athletes, in contrast, often “carb-load” before important competitions to ensure that they have enough energy to compete at a high level. Carbohydrates are, in fact, an essential part of our diet; grains, fruits, and vegetables are all natural sources of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates provide energy to the body, particularly through glucose, a simple sugar that is a component of starch and an ingredient in many staple foods. Carbohydrates also have other important functions in humans, animals, and plants.

    Molecular Structures

    Carbohydrates can be represented by the stoichiometric formula (CH2O)n, where n is the number of carbons in the molecule. In other words, the ratio of carbon to hydrogen to oxygen is 1:2:1 in carbohydrate molecules. This formula also explains the origin of the term “carbohydrate”: the components are carbon (“carbo”) and the components of water (hence, “hydrate”). Carbohydrates are classified into three subtypes: monosaccharides, disaccharides, and polysaccharides.

    Monosaccharides

    Monosaccharides (mono- = “one”; sacchar- = “sweet”) are simple sugars, the most common of which is glucose. In monosaccharides, the number of carbons usually ranges from three to seven. Most monosaccharide names end with the suffix -ose. If the sugar has an aldehyde group (the functional group with the structure R-CHO), it is known as an aldose, and if it has a ketone group (the functional group with the structure RC(=O)R'), it is known as a ketose. Depending on the number of carbons in the sugar, they also may be known as trioses (three carbons), pentoses (five carbons), and or hexoses (six carbons). See Figure 4.4 for an illustration of the monosaccharides.

    Figure_03_02_01.jpg
    Figure 4.4
    Monosaccharides are classified based on the position of their carbonyl group and the number of carbons in the backbone. Aldoses have a carbonyl group (indicated in green) at the end of the carbon chain, and ketoses have a carbonyl group in the middle of the carbon chain. Trioses, pentoses, and hexoses have three, five, and six carbon backbones, respectively.

    The chemical formula for glucose is C6H12O6. In humans, glucose is an important source of energy. During cellular respiration, energy is released from glucose, and that energy is used to help make adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Plants synthesize glucose using carbon dioxide and water, and glucose in turn is used for energy requirements for the plant. Excess glucose is often stored as starch that is catabolized (the breakdown of larger molecules by cells) by humans and other animals that feed on plants.

    Galactose (part of lactose, or milk sugar) and fructose (found in sucrose, in fruit) are other common monosaccharides. Although glucose, galactose, and fructose all have the same chemical formula (C6H12O6), they differ structurally and chemically (and are known as isomers) because of the different arrangement of functional groups around the asymmetric carbon; all of these monosaccharides have more than one asymmetric carbon (Figure 4.5).

    Art Connection

    Figure_03_02_02.png
    Figure 4.5
    Glucose, galactose, and fructose are all hexoses. They are structural isomers, meaning they have the same chemical formula (C6H12O6) but a different arrangement of atoms.

    What kind of sugars are these, aldose or ketose?

    Glucose, galactose, and fructose are isomeric monosaccharides (hexoses), meaning they have the same chemical formula but have slightly different structures. Glucose and galactose are aldoses, and fructose is a ketose.

    Monosaccharides can exist as a linear chain or as ring-shaped molecules; in aqueous solutions they are usually found in ring forms (Figure 4.6). Glucose in a ring form can have two different arrangements of the hydroxyl group (OH) around the anomeric carbon (carbon 1 that becomes asymmetric in the process of ring formation). If the hydroxyl group is below carbon number 1 in the sugar, it is said to be in the alpha (α) position, and if it is above the plane, it is said to be in the beta (β) position.

    Figure_03_02_03.jpg
    Figure 4.6
    Five and six carbon monosaccharides exist in equilibrium between linear and ring forms. When the ring forms, the side chain it closes on is locked into an α or β position. Fructose and ribose also form rings, although they form five-membered rings as opposed to the six-membered ring of glucose.

    Disaccharides

    Disaccharides (di- = “two”) form when two monosaccharides undergo a dehydration reaction (also known as a condensation reaction or dehydration synthesis). During this process, the hydroxyl group of one monosaccharide combines with the hydrogen of another monosaccharide, releasing a molecule of water and forming a covalent bond. A covalent bond formed between a carbohydrate molecule and another molecule (in this case, between two monosaccharides) is known as a glycosidic bond (Figure 4.7). Glycosidic bonds (also called glycosidic linkages) can be of the alpha or the beta type.

    Figure_03_02_04.jpg
    Figure 4.7
    Sucrose is formed when a monomer of glucose and a monomer of fructose are joined in a dehydration reaction to form a glycosidic bond. In the process, a water molecule is lost. By convention, the carbon atoms in a monosaccharide are numbered from the terminal carbon closest to the carbonyl group. In sucrose, a glycosidic linkage is formed between carbon 1 in glucose and carbon 2 in fructose.

    Common disaccharides include lactose, maltose, and sucrose (Figure 4.8). Lactose is a disaccharide consisting of the monomers glucose and galactose. It is found naturally in milk. Maltose, or malt sugar, is a disaccharide formed by a dehydration reaction between two glucose molecules. The most common disaccharide is sucrose, or table sugar, which is composed of the monomers glucose and fructose.

    Figure_03_02_05.jpg
    Figure 4.8
    Common disaccharides include maltose (grain sugar), lactose (milk sugar), and sucrose (table sugar).

    Polysaccharides

    A long chain of monosaccharides linked by glycosidic bonds is known as a polysaccharide (poly- = “many”). The chain may be branched or unbranched, and it may contain different types of monosaccharides. The molecular weight may be 100,000 daltons or more depending on the number of monomers joined. Starch, glycogen, cellulose, and chitin are primary examples of polysaccharides.

    Starch is the stored form of sugars in plants and is made up of a mixture of amylose and amylopectin (both polymers of glucose). Plants are able to synthesize glucose, and the excess glucose, beyond the plant’s immediate energy needs, is stored as starch in different plant parts, including roots and seeds. The starch in the seeds provides food for the embryo as it germinates and can also act as a source of food for humans and animals. The starch that is consumed by humans is broken down by enzymes, such as salivary amylases, into smaller molecules, such as maltose and glucose. The cells can then absorb the glucose.

    Starch is made up of glucose monomers that are joined by α 1-4 or α 1-6 glycosidic bonds. The numbers 1-4 and 1-6 refer to the carbon number of the two residues that have joined to form the bond. As illustrated in Figure 4.9, amylose is starch formed by unbranched chains of glucose monomers (only α 1-4 linkages), whereas amylopectin is a branched polysaccharide (α 1-6 linkages at the branch points).

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    Figure 4.9
    Amylose and amylopectin are two different forms of starch. Amylose is composed of unbranched chains of glucose monomers connected by α 1,4 glycosidic linkages. Amylopectin is composed of branched chains of glucose monomers connected by α 1,4 and α 1,6 glycosidic linkages. Because of the way the subunits are joined, the glucose chains have a helical structure. Glycogen (not shown) is similar in structure to amylopectin but more highly branched.

    Glycogen is the storage form of glucose in humans and other vertebrates and is made up of monomers of glucose. Glycogen is the animal equivalent of starch and is a highly branched molecule usually stored in liver and muscle cells. Whenever blood glucose levels decrease, glycogen is broken down to release glucose in a process known as glycogenolysis.

    Cellulose is the most abundant natural biopolymer. The cell wall of plants is mostly made of cellulose; this provides structural support to the cell. Wood and paper are mostly cellulosic in nature. Cellulose is made up of glucose monomers that are linked by β 1-4 glycosidic bonds (Figure 4.10).

    Figure_03_02_07.jpg
    Figure 4.10
    In cellulose, glucose monomers are linked in unbranched chains by β 1-4 glycosidic linkages. Because of the way the glucose subunits are joined, every glucose monomer is flipped relative to the next one resulting in a linear, fibrous structure.

    As shown in Figure 4.10, every other glucose monomer in cellulose is flipped over, and the monomers are packed tightly as extended long chains. This gives cellulose its rigidity and high tensile strength—which is so important to plant cells. While the β 1-4 linkage cannot be broken down by human digestive enzymes, herbivores such as cows, koalas, and buffalos are able, with the help of the specialized flora in their stomach, to digest plant material that is rich in cellulose and use it as a food source. In these animals, certain species of bacteria and protists reside in the rumen (part of the digestive system of herbivores) and secrete the enzyme cellulase. The appendix of grazing animals also contains bacteria that digest cellulose, giving it an important role in the digestive systems of ruminants. Cellulases can break down cellulose into glucose monomers that can be used as an energy source by the animal. Termites are also able to break down cellulose because of the presence of other organisms in their bodies that secrete cellulases.

    Carbohydrates serve various functions in different animals. Arthropods (insects, crustaceans, and others) have an outer skeleton, called the exoskeleton, which protects their internal body parts (as seen in the bee in Figure 4.11). This exoskeleton is made of the biological macromolecule chitin, which is a polysaccharide-containing nitrogen. It is made of repeating units of N-acetyl-β-d-glucosamine, a modified sugar. Chitin is also a major component of fungal cell walls; fungi are neither animals nor plants and form a kingdom of their own in the domain Eukarya.

    Figure_03_02_08.jpg
    Figure 4.11
    Insects have a hard outer exoskeleton made of chitin, a type of polysaccharide. (credit: Louise Docker)
    Career Connections

    Registered Dietitian

    Obesity is a worldwide health concern, and many diseases such as diabetes and heart disease are becoming more prevalent because of obesity. This is one of the reasons why registered dietitians are increasingly sought after for advice. Registered dietitians help plan nutrition programs for individuals in various settings. They often work with patients in health care facilities, designing nutrition plans to treat and prevent diseases. For example, dietitians may teach a patient with diabetes how to manage blood sugar levels by eating the correct types and amounts of carbohydrates. Dietitians may also work in nursing homes, schools, and private practices.

    To become a registered dietitian, one needs to earn at least a bachelor’s degree in dietetics, nutrition, food technology, or a related field. In addition, registered dietitians must complete a supervised internship program and pass a national exam. Those who pursue careers in dietetics take courses in nutrition, chemistry, biochemistry, biology, microbiology, and human physiology. Dietitians must become experts in the chemistry and physiology (biological functions) of food (proteins, carbohydrates, and fats).

    Benefits of Carbohydrates

    Are carbohydrates good for you? People who wish to lose weight are often told that carbohydrates are bad for them and should be avoided. Some diets completely forbid carbohydrate consumption, claiming that a low-carbohydrate diet helps people to lose weight faster. However, carbohydrates have been an important part of the human diet for thousands of years; artifacts from ancient civilizations show the presence of wheat, rice, and corn in our ancestors’ storage areas.

    Carbohydrates should be supplemented with proteins, vitamins, and fats to be parts of a well-balanced diet. Calorie-wise, a gram of carbohydrate provides 4.3 Kcal. For comparison, fats provide 9 Kcal/g, a less desirable ratio. Carbohydrates contain soluble and insoluble elements; the insoluble part is known as fiber, which is mostly cellulose. Fiber has many uses; it promotes regular bowel movement by adding bulk, and it regulates the rate of consumption of blood glucose. Fiber also helps to remove excess cholesterol from the body: fiber binds to the cholesterol in the small intestine, then attaches to the cholesterol and prevents the cholesterol particles from entering the bloodstream, and then cholesterol exits the body via the feces. Fiber-rich diets also have a protective role in reducing the occurrence of colon cancer. In addition, a meal containing whole grains and vegetables gives a feeling of fullness. As an immediate source of energy, glucose is broken down during the process of cellular respiration, which produces ATP, the energy currency of the cell. Without the consumption of carbohydrates, the availability of “instant energy” would be reduced. Eliminating carbohydrates from the diet is not the best way to lose weight. A low-calorie diet that is rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean meat, together with plenty of exercise and plenty of water, is the more sensible way to lose weight.

    Link to Learning
    carbohydrates.png

    For an additional perspective on carbohydrates, explore “Biomolecules: the Carbohydrates” through this interactive animation.

    4.3Lipids*

    By the end of this section, you will be able to:

    • Describe the four major types of lipids

    • Explain the role of fats in storing energy

    • Differentiate between saturated and unsaturated fatty acids

    • Describe phospholipids and their role in cells

    • Define the basic structure of a steroid and some functions of steroids

    • Explain the how cholesterol helps to maintain the fluid nature of the plasma membrane

    Lipids include a diverse group of compounds that are largely nonpolar in nature. This is because they are hydrocarbons that include mostly nonpolar carbon–carbon or carbon–hydrogen bonds. Non-polar molecules are hydrophobic (“water fearing”), or insoluble in water. Lipids perform many different functions in a cell. Cells store energy for long-term use in the form of fats. Lipids also provide insulation from the environment for plants and animals (Figure 4.12). For example, they help keep aquatic birds and mammals dry when forming a protective layer over fur or feathers because of their water-repellant hydrophobic nature. Lipids are also the building blocks of many hormones and are an important constituent of all cellular membranes. Lipids include fats, oils, waxes, phospholipids, and steroids.

    Figure_03_03_01.jpg
    Figure 4.12
    Hydrophobic lipids in the fur of aquatic mammals, such as this river otter, protect them from the elements. (credit: Ken Bosma)

    Fats and Oils

    A fat molecule consists of two main components—glycerol and fatty acids. Glycerol is an organic compound (alcohol) with three carbons, five hydrogens, and three hydroxyl (OH) groups. Fatty acids have a long chain of hydrocarbons to which a carboxyl group is attached, hence the name “fatty acid.” The number of carbons in the fatty acid may range from 4 to 36; most common are those containing 12–18 carbons. In a fat molecule, the fatty acids are attached to each of the three carbons of the glycerol molecule with an ester bond through an oxygen atom (Figure 4.13).

    Figure_03_03_02.jpg
    Figure 4.13
    Triacylglycerol is formed by the joining of three fatty acids to a glycerol backbone in a dehydration reaction. Three molecules of water are released in the process.

    During this ester bond formation, three water molecules are released. The three fatty acids in the triacylglycerol may be similar or dissimilar. Fats are also called triacylglycerols or triglycerides because of their chemical structure. Some fatty acids have common names that specify their origin. For example, palmitic acid, a saturated fatty acid, is derived from the palm tree. Arachidic acid is derived from Arachis hypogea, the scientific name for groundnuts or peanuts.

    Fatty acids may be saturated or unsaturated. In a fatty acid chain, if there are only single bonds between neighboring carbons in the hydrocarbon chain, the fatty acid is said to be saturated. Saturated fatty acids are saturated with hydrogen; in other words, the number of hydrogen atoms attached to the carbon skeleton is maximized. Stearic acid is an example of a saturated fatty acid (Figure 4.14)

    Figure_03_03_03.jpg
    Figure 4.14
    Stearic acid is a common saturated fatty acid.

    When the hydrocarbon chain contains a double bond, the fatty acid is said to be unsaturated. Oleic acid is an example of an unsaturated fatty acid (Figure 4.15).

    Figure_03_03_04.jpg
    Figure 4.15
    Oleic acid is a common unsaturated fatty acid.

    Most unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and are called oils. If there is one double bond in the molecule, then it is known as a monounsaturated fat (e.g., olive oil), and if there is more than one double bond, then it is known as a polyunsaturated fat (e.g., canola oil).

    When a fatty acid has no double bonds, it is known as a saturated fatty acid because no more hydrogen may be added to the carbon atoms of the chain. A fat may contain similar or different fatty acids attached to glycerol. Long straight fatty acids with single bonds tend to get packed tightly and are solid at room temperature. Animal fats with stearic acid and palmitic acid (common in meat) and the fat with butyric acid (common in butter) are examples of saturated fats. Mammals store fats in specialized cells called adipocytes, where globules of fat occupy most of the cell’s volume. In plants, fat or oil is stored in many seeds and is used as a source of energy during seedling development. Unsaturated fats or oils are usually of plant origin and contain cis unsaturated fatty acids. Cis and trans indicate the configuration of the molecule around the double bond. If hydrogens are present in the same plane, it is referred to as a cis fat; if the hydrogen atoms are on two different planes, it is referred to as a trans fat. The cis double bond causes a bend or a “kink” that prevents the fatty acids from packing tightly, keeping them liquid at room temperature (Figure 4.16). Olive oil, corn oil, canola oil, and cod liver oil are examples of unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats help to lower blood cholesterol levels whereas saturated fats contribute to plaque formation in the arteries.

    Figure_03_03_05.jpg
    Figure 4.16
    Saturated fatty acids have hydrocarbon chains connected by single bonds only. Unsaturated fatty acids have one or more double bonds. Each double bond may be in a cis or trans configuration. In the cis configuration, both hydrogens are on the same side of the hydrocarbon chain. In the trans configuration, the hydrogens are on opposite sides. A cis double bond causes a kink in the chain.

    Trans Fats

    In the food industry, oils are artificially hydrogenated to make them semi-solid and of a consistency desirable for many processed food products. Simply speaking, hydrogen gas is bubbled through oils to solidify them. During this hydrogenation process, double bonds of the cis- conformation in the hydrocarbon chain may be converted to double bonds in the trans- conformation.

    Margarine, some types of peanut butter, and shortening are examples of artificially hydrogenated trans fats. Recent studies have shown that an increase in trans fats in the human diet may lead to an increase in levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol, which in turn may lead to plaque deposition in the arteries, resulting in heart disease. Many fast food restaurants have recently banned the use of trans fats, and food labels are required to display the trans fat content.

    Omega Fatty Acids

    Essential fatty acids are fatty acids required but not synthesized by the human body. Consequently, they have to be supplemented through ingestion via the diet. Omega-3 fatty acids (like that shown in Figure 4.17) fall into this category and are one of only two known for humans (the other being omega-6 fatty acid). These are polyunsaturated fatty acids and are called omega-3 because the third carbon from the end of the hydrocarbon chain is connected to its neighboring carbon by a double bond.

    Figure_03_03_07.jpg
    Figure 4.17
    Alpha-linolenic acid is an example of an omega-3 fatty acid. It has three cis double bonds and, as a result, a curved shape. For clarity, the carbons are not shown. Each singly bonded carbon has two hydrogens associated with it, also not shown.

    The farthest carbon away from the carboxyl group is numbered as the omega (ω) carbon, and if the double bond is between the third and fourth carbon from that end, it is known as an omega-3 fatty acid. Nutritionally important because the body does not make them, omega-3 fatty acids include alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), all of which are polyunsaturated. Salmon, trout, and tuna are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Research indicates that omega-3 fatty acids reduce the risk of sudden death from heart attacks, reduce triglycerides in the blood, lower blood pressure, and prevent thrombosis by inhibiting blood clotting. They also reduce inflammation, and may help reduce the risk of some cancers in animals.

    Like carbohydrates, fats have received a lot of bad publicity. It is true that eating an excess of fried foods and other “fatty” foods leads to weight gain. However, fats do have important functions. Many vitamins are fat soluble, and fats serve as a long-term storage form of fatty acids: a source of energy. They also provide insulation for the body. Therefore, “healthy” fats in moderate amounts should be consumed on a regular basis.

    Waxes

    Wax covers the feathers of some aquatic birds and the leaf surfaces of some plants. Because of the hydrophobic nature of waxes, they prevent water from sticking on the surface (Figure 4.18). Waxes are made up of long fatty acid chains esterified to long-chain alcohols.

    Figure_03_03_11.jpg
    Figure 4.18
    Waxy coverings on some leaves are made of lipids. (credit: Roger Griffith)

    Phospholipids

    Phospholipids are major constituents of the plasma membrane, the outermost layer of animal cells. Like fats, they are composed of fatty acid chains attached to a glycerol or sphingosine backbone. Instead of three fatty acids attached as in triglycerides, however, there are two fatty acids forming diacylglycerol, and the third carbon of the glycerol backbone is occupied by a modified phosphate group (Figure 4.19). A phosphate group alone attached to a diaglycerol does not qualify as a phospholipid; it is phosphatidate (diacylglycerol 3-phosphate), the precursor of phospholipids. The phosphate group is modified by an alcohol. Phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylserine are two important phospholipids that are found in plasma membranes.

    Figure_05_01_03a.jpg
    Figure 4.19
    A phospholipid is a molecule with two fatty acids and a modified phosphate group attached to a glycerol backbone. The phosphate may be modified by the addition of charged or polar chemical groups. Two chemical groups that may modify the phosphate, choline and serine, are shown here. Both choline and serine attach to the phosphate group at the position labeled R via the hydroxyl group indicated in green.

    A phospholipid is an amphipathic molecule, meaning it has a hydrophobic and a hydrophilic part. The fatty acid chains are hydrophobic and cannot interact with water, whereas the phosphate-containing group is hydrophilic and interacts with water (Figure 4.20).

    Figure_03_03_09.jpg
    Figure 4.20
    The phospholipid bilayer is the major component of all cellular membranes. The hydrophilic head groups of the phospholipids face the aqueous solution. The hydrophobic tails are sequestered in the middle of the bilayer.

    The head is the hydrophilic part, and the tail contains the hydrophobic fatty acids. In a membrane, a bilayer of phospholipids forms the matrix of the structure, the fatty acid tails of phospholipids face inside, away from water, whereas the phosphate group faces the outside, aqueous side (Figure 4.20).

    Phospholipids are responsible for the dynamic nature of the plasma membrane. If a drop of phospholipids is placed in water, it spontaneously forms a structure known as a micelle, where the hydrophilic phosphate heads face the outside and the fatty acids face the interior of this structure.

    Steroids

    Unlike the phospholipids and fats discussed earlier, steroids have a fused ring structure. Although they do not resemble the other lipids, they are grouped with them because they are also hydrophobic and insoluble in water. All steroids have four linked carbon rings and several of them, like cholesterol, have a short tail (Figure 4.21). Many steroids also have the –OH functional group, which puts them in the alcohol classification (sterols).

    Figure_03_03_10.jpg
    Figure 4.21
    Steroids such as cholesterol and cortisol are composed of four fused hydrocarbon rings.

    Cholesterol is the most common steroid. Cholesterol is mainly synthesized in the liver and is the precursor to many steroid hormones such as testosterone and estradiol, which are secreted by the gonads and endocrine glands. It is also the precursor to Vitamin D. Cholesterol is also the precursor of bile salts, which help in the emulsification of fats and their subsequent absorption by cells. Although cholesterol is often spoken of in negative terms by lay people, it is necessary for proper functioning of the body. It is a component of the plasma membrane of animal cells and is found within the phospholipid bilayer. Being the outermost structure in animal cells, the plasma membrane is responsible for the transport of materials and cellular recognition and it is involved in cell-to-cell communication.

    Link to Learning
    lipids.png

    For an additional perspective on lipids, explore the interactive animation “Biomolecules: The Lipids”

    4.4Proteins*

    By the end of this section, you will be able to:

    • Describe the functions proteins perform in the cell and in tissues

    • Discuss the relationship between amino acids and proteins

    • Explain the four levels of protein organization

    • Describe the ways in which protein shape and function are linked

    Proteins are one of the most abundant organic molecules in living systems and have the most diverse range of functions of all macromolecules. Proteins may be structural, regulatory, contractile, or protective; they may serve in transport, storage, or membranes; or they may be toxins or enzymes. Each cell in a living system may contain thousands of proteins, each with a unique function. Their structures, like their functions, vary greatly. They are all, however, polymers of amino acids, arranged in a linear sequence.

    Types and Functions of Proteins

    Enzymes, which are produced by living cells, are catalysts in biochemical reactions (like digestion) and are usually complex or conjugated proteins. Each enzyme is specific for the substrate (a reactant that binds to an enzyme) it acts on. The enzyme may help in breakdown, rearrangement, or synthesis reactions. Enzymes that break down their substrates are called catabolic enzymes, enzymes that build more complex molecules from their substrates are called anabolic enzymes, and enzymes that affect the rate of reaction are called catalytic enzymes. It should be noted that all enzymes increase the rate of reaction and, therefore, are considered to be organic catalysts. An example of an enzyme is salivary amylase, which hydrolyzes its substrate amylose, a component of starch.

    Hormones are chemical-signaling molecules, usually small proteins or steroids, secreted by endocrine cells that act to control or regulate specific physiological processes, including growth, development, metabolism, and reproduction. For example, insulin is a protein hormone that helps to regulate the blood glucose level. The primary types and functions of proteins are listed in Table 4.1.

    Table 4.1.
    Protein Types and Functions
    TypeExamplesFunctions
    Digestive EnzymesAmylase, lipase, pepsin, trypsinHelp in digestion of food by catabolizing nutrients into monomeric units
    TransportHemoglobin, albuminCarry substances in the blood or lymph throughout the body
    StructuralActin, tubulin, keratinConstruct different structures, like the cytoskeleton
    HormonesInsulin, thyroxineCoordinate the activity of different body systems
    DefenseImmunoglobulinsProtect the body from foreign pathogens
    ContractileActin, myosinEffect muscle contraction
    StorageLegume storage proteins, egg white (albumin)Provide nourishment in early development of the embryo and the seedling

    Proteins have different shapes and molecular weights; some proteins are globular in shape whereas others are fibrous in nature. For example, hemoglobin is a globular protein, but collagen, found in our skin, is a fibrous protein. Protein shape is critical to its function, and this shape is maintained by many different types of chemical bonds. Changes in temperature, pH, and exposure to chemicals may lead to permanent changes in the shape of the protein, leading to loss of function, known as denaturation. All proteins are made up of different arrangements of the same 20 types of amino acids.

    Amino Acids

    Amino acids are the monomers that make up proteins. Each amino acid has the same fundamental structure, which consists of a central carbon atom, also known as the alpha (α) carbon, bonded to an amino group (NH2), a carboxyl group (COOH), and to a hydrogen atom. Every amino acid also has another atom or group of atoms bonded to the central atom known as the R group (Figure 4.22).

    Figure_03_04_01.jpg
    Figure 4.22
    Amino acids have a central asymmetric carbon to which an amino group, a carboxyl group, a hydrogen atom, and a side chain (R group) are attached.

    The name "amino acid" is derived from the fact that they contain both amino group and carboxyl-acid-group in their basic structure. As mentioned, there are 20 amino acids present in proteins. Ten of these are considered essential amino acids in humans because the human body cannot produce them and they are obtained from the diet. For each amino acid, the R group (or side chain) is different (Figure 4.23).

    Art Connection

    Figure_03_04_02.png
    Figure 4.23
    There are 20 common amino acids commonly found in proteins, each with a different R group (variant group) that determines its chemical nature.

    Which categories of amino acid would you expect to find on the surface of a soluble protein, and which would you expect to find in the interior? What distribution of amino acids would you expect to find in a protein embedded in a lipid bilayer?

    The chemical nature of the side chain determines the nature of the amino acid (that is, whether it is acidic, basic, polar, or nonpolar). For example, the amino acid glycine has a hydrogen atom as the R group. Amino acids such as valine, methionine, and alanine are nonpolar or hydrophobic in nature, while amino acids such as serine, threonine, and cysteine are polar and have hydrophilic side chains. The side chains of lysine and arginine are positively charged, and therefore these amino acids are also known as basic amino acids. Proline has an R group that is linked to the amino group, forming a ring-like structure. Proline is an exception to the standard structure of an animo acid since its amino group is not separate from the side chain (Figure 4.23).

    Amino acids are represented by a single upper case letter or a three-letter abbreviation. For example, valine is known by the letter V or the three-letter symbol val. Just as some fatty acids are essential to a diet, some amino acids are necessary as well. They are known as essential amino acids, and in humans they include isoleucine, leucine, and cysteine. Essential amino acids refer to those necessary for construction of proteins in the body, although not produced by the body; which amino acids are essential varies from organism to organism.

    The sequence and the number of amino acids ultimately determine the protein's shape, size, and function. Each amino acid is attached to another amino acid by a covalent bond, known as a peptide bond, which is formed by a dehydration reaction. The carboxyl group of one amino acid and the amino group of the incoming amino acid combine, releasing a molecule of water. The resulting bond is the peptide bond (Figure 4.24).

    Figure_03_04_03.jpg
    Figure 4.24
    Peptide bond formation is a dehydration synthesis reaction. The carboxyl group of one amino acid is linked to the amino group of the incoming amino acid. In the process, a molecule of water is released.

    The products formed by such linkages are called peptides. As more amino acids join to this growing chain, the resulting chain is known as a polypeptide. Each polypeptide has a free amino group at one end. This end is called the N terminal, or the amino terminal, and the other end has a free carboxyl group, also known as the C or carboxyl terminal. While the terms polypeptide and protein are sometimes used interchangeably, a polypeptide is technically a polymer of amino acids, whereas the term protein is used for a polypeptide or polypeptides that have combined together, often have bound non-peptide prosthetic groups, have a distinct shape, and have a unique function. After protein synthesis (translation), most proteins are modified. These are known as post-translational modifications. They may undergo cleavage, phosphorylation, or may require the addition of other chemical groups. Only after these modifications is the protein completely functional.

    Link to Learning
    protein_synth.png

    Click through the steps of protein synthesis in this interactive tutorial.

    Evolution Connection

    The Evolutionary Significance of Cytochrome c

    Cytochrome c is an important component of the electron transport chain, a part of cellular respiration, and it is normally found in the cellular organelle, the mitochondrion. This protein has a heme prosthetic group, and the central ion of the heme gets alternately reduced and oxidized during electron transfer. Because this essential protein’s role in producing cellular energy is crucial, it has changed very little over millions of years. Protein sequencing has shown that there is a considerable amount of cytochrome c amino acid sequence homology among different species; in other words, evolutionary kinship can be assessed by measuring the similarities or differences among various species’ DNA or protein sequences.

    Scientists have determined that human cytochrome c contains 104 amino acids. For each cytochrome c molecule from different organisms that has been sequenced to date, 37 of these amino acids appear in the same position in all samples of cytochrome c. This indicates that there may have been a common ancestor. On comparing the human and chimpanzee protein sequences, no sequence difference was found. When human and rhesus monkey sequences were compared, the single difference found was in one amino acid. In another comparison, human to yeast sequencing shows a difference in the 44th position.

    Protein Structure

    As discussed earlier, the shape of a protein is critical to its function. For example, an enzyme can bind to a specific substrate at a site known as the active site. If this active site is altered because of local changes or changes in overall protein structure, the enzyme may be unable to bind to the substrate. To understand how the protein gets its final shape or conformation, we need to understand the four levels of protein structure: primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary.

    Primary Structure

    The unique sequence of amino acids in a polypeptide chain is its primary structure. For example, the pancreatic hormone insulin has two polypeptide chains, A and B, and they are linked together by disulfide bonds. The N terminal amino acid of the A chain is glycine, whereas the C terminal amino acid is asparagine (Figure 4.25). The sequences of amino acids in the A and B chains are unique to insulin.

    Figure_03_04_04.jpg
    Figure 4.25
    Bovine serum insulin is a protein hormone made of two peptide chains, A (21 amino acids long) and B (30 amino acids long). In each chain, primary structure is indicated by three-letter abbreviations that represent the names of the amino acids in the order they are present. The amino acid cysteine (cys) has a sulfhydryl (SH) group as a side chain. Two sulfhydryl groups can react in the presence of oxygen to form a disulfide (S-S) bond. Two disulfide bonds connect the A and B chains together, and a third helps the A chain fold into the correct shape. Note that all disulfide bonds are the same length, but are drawn different sizes for clarity.

    The unique sequence for every protein is ultimately determined by the gene encoding the protein. A change in nucleotide sequence of the gene’s coding region may lead to a different amino acid being added to the growing polypeptide chain, causing a change in protein structure and function. In sickle cell anemia, the hemoglobin β chain (a small portion of which is shown in Figure 4.26) has a single amino acid substitution, causing a change in protein structure and function. Specifically, the amino acid glutamic acid is substituted by valine in the β chain. What is most remarkable to consider is that a hemoglobin molecule is made up of two alpha chains and two beta chains that each consist of about 150 amino acids. The molecule, therefore, has about 600 amino acids. The structural difference between a normal hemoglobin molecule and a sickle cell molecule—which dramatically decreases life expectancy—is a single amino acid of the 600. What is even more remarkable is that those 600 amino acids are encoded by three nucleotides each, and the mutation is caused by a single base change (point mutation), 1 in 1800 bases.

    Figure_03_04_05.jpg
    Figure 4.26
    The beta chain of hemoglobin is 147 residues in length, yet a single amino acid substitution leads to sickle cell anemia. In normal hemoglobin, the amino acid at position seven is glutamate. In sickle cell hemoglobin, this glutamate is replaced by a valine.

    Because of this change of one amino acid in the chain, hemoglobin molecules form long fibers that distort the biconcave, or disc-shaped, red blood cells and assume a crescent or “sickle” shape, which clogs arteries (Figure 4.27). This can lead to myriad serious health problems such as breathlessness, dizziness, headaches, and abdominal pain for those affected by this disease.

    Figure_03_04_06.jpg
    Figure 4.27
    In this blood smear, visualized at 535x magnification using bright field microscopy, sickle cells are crescent shaped, while normal cells are disc-shaped. (credit: modification of work by Ed Uthman; scale-bar data from Matt Russell)

    Secondary Structure

    The local folding of the polypeptide in some regions gives rise to the secondary structure of the protein. The most common are the α-helix and β-pleated sheet structures (Figure 4.28). Both structures are the α-helix structure—the helix held in shape by hydrogen bonds. The hydrogen bonds form between the oxygen atom in the carbonyl group in one amino acid and another amino acid that is four amino acids farther along the chain.

    Figure_03_04_07.jpg
    Figure 4.28
    The α-helix and β-pleated sheet are secondary structures of proteins that form because of hydrogen bonding between carbonyl and amino groups in the peptide backbone. Certain amino acids have a propensity to form an α-helix, while others have a propensity to form a β-pleated sheet.

    Every helical turn in an alpha helix has 3.6 amino acid residues. The R groups (the variant groups) of the polypeptide protrude out from the α-helix chain. In the β-pleated sheet, the “pleats” are formed by hydrogen bonding between atoms on the backbone of the polypeptide chain. The R groups are attached to the carbons and extend above and below the folds of the pleat. The pleated segments align parallel or antiparallel to each other, and hydrogen bonds form between the partially positive nitrogen atom in the amino group and the partially negative oxygen atom in the carbonyl group of the peptide backbone. The α-helix and β-pleated sheet structures are found in most globular and fibrous proteins and they play an important structural role.

    Tertiary Structure

    The unique three-dimensional structure of a polypeptide is its tertiary structure (Figure 4.29). This structure is in part due to chemical interactions at work on the polypeptide chain. Primarily, the interactions among R groups creates the complex three-dimensional tertiary structure of a protein. The nature of the R groups found in the amino acids involved can counteract the formation of the hydrogen bonds described for standard secondary structures. For example, R groups with like charges are repelled by each other and those with unlike charges are attracted to each other (ionic bonds). When protein folding takes place, the hydrophobic R groups of nonpolar amino acids lay in the interior of the protein, whereas the hydrophilic R groups lay on the outside. The former types of interactions are also known as hydrophobic interactions. Interaction between cysteine side chains forms disulfide linkages in the presence of oxygen, the only covalent bond forming during protein folding.

    Figure_03_04_08.jpg
    Figure 4.29
    The tertiary structure of proteins is determined by a variety of chemical interactions. These include hydrophobic interactions, ionic bonding, hydrogen bonding and disulfide linkages.

    All of these interactions, weak and strong, determine the final three-dimensional shape of the protein. When a protein loses its three-dimensional shape, it may no longer be functional.

    Quaternary Structure

    In nature, some proteins are formed from several polypeptides, also known as subunits, and the interaction of these subunits forms the quaternary structure. Weak interactions between the subunits help to stabilize the overall structure. For example, insulin (a globular protein) has a combination of hydrogen bonds and disulfide bonds that cause it to be mostly clumped into a ball shape. Insulin starts out as a single polypeptide and loses some internal sequences in the presence of post-translational modification after the formation of the disulfide linkages that hold the remaining chains together. Silk (a fibrous protein), however, has a β-pleated sheet structure that is the result of hydrogen bonding between different chains.

    The four levels of protein structure (primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary) are illustrated in Figure 4.30.

    Figure_03_04_09.jpg
    Figure 4.30
    The four levels of protein structure can be observed in these illustrations. (credit: modification of work by National Human Genome Research Institute)

    Denaturation and Protein Folding

    Each protein has its own unique sequence and shape that are held together by chemical interactions. If the protein is subject to changes in temperature, pH, or exposure to chemicals, the protein structure may change, losing its shape without losing its primary sequence in what is known as denaturation. Denaturation is often reversible because the primary structure of the polypeptide is conserved in the process if the denaturing agent is removed, allowing the protein to resume its function. Sometimes denaturation is irreversible, leading to loss of function. One example of irreversible protein denaturation is when an egg is fried. The albumin protein in the liquid egg white is denatured when placed in a hot pan. Not all proteins are denatured at high temperatures; for instance, bacteria that survive in hot springs have proteins that function at temperatures close to boiling. The stomach is also very acidic, has a low pH, and denatures proteins as part of the digestion process; however, the digestive enzymes of the stomach retain their activity under these conditions.

    Protein folding is critical to its function. It was originally thought that the proteins themselves were responsible for the folding process. Only recently was it found that often they receive assistance in the folding process from protein helpers known as chaperones (or chaperonins) that associate with the target protein during the folding process. They act by preventing aggregation of polypeptides that make up the complete protein structure, and they disassociate from the protein once the target protein is folded.

    Link to Learning
    proteins.png

    For an additional perspective on proteins, view this animation called “Biomolecules: The Proteins.”

    4.5Nucleic Acids*

    By the end of this section, you will be able to:

    • Describe the structure of nucleic acids and define the two types of nucleic acids

    • Explain the structure and role of DNA

    • Explain the structure and roles of RNA

    Nucleic acids are the most important macromolecules for the continuity of life. They carry the genetic blueprint of a cell and carry instructions for the functioning of the cell.

    DNA and RNA

    The two main types of nucleic acids are deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA). DNA is the genetic material found in all living organisms, ranging from single-celled bacteria to multicellular mammals. It is found in the nucleus of eukaryotes and in the organelles, chloroplasts, and mitochondria. In prokaryotes, the DNA is not enclosed in a membranous envelope.

    The entire genetic content of a cell is known as its genome, and the study of genomes is genomics. In eukaryotic cells but not in prokaryotes, DNA forms a complex with histone proteins to form chromatin, the substance of eukaryotic chromosomes. A chromosome may contain tens of thousands of genes. Many genes contain the information to make protein products; other genes code for RNA products. DNA controls all of the cellular activities by turning the genes “on” or “off.”

    The other type of nucleic acid, RNA, is mostly involved in protein synthesis. The DNA molecules never leave the nucleus but instead use an intermediary to communicate with the rest of the cell. This intermediary is the messenger RNA (mRNA). Other types of RNA—like rRNA, tRNA, and microRNA—are involved in protein synthesis and its regulation.

    DNA and RNA are made up of monomers known as nucleotides. The nucleotides combine with each other to form a polynucleotide, DNA or RNA. Each nucleotide is made up of three components: a nitrogenous base, a pentose (five-carbon) sugar, and a phosphate group (Figure 4.31). Each nitrogenous base in a nucleotide is attached to a sugar molecule, which is attached to one or more phosphate groups.

    Figure_03_05_01.jpg
    Figure 4.31
    A nucleotide is made up of three components: a nitrogenous base, a pentose sugar, and one or more phosphate groups. Carbon residues in the pentose are numbered 1′ through 5′ (the prime distinguishes these residues from those in the base, which are numbered without using a prime notation). The base is attached to the 1′ position of the ribose, and the phosphate is attached to the 5′ position. When a polynucleotide is formed, the 5′ phosphate of the incoming nucleotide attaches to the 3′ hydroxyl group at the end of the growing chain. Two types of pentose are found in nucleotides, deoxyribose (found in DNA) and ribose (found in RNA). Deoxyribose is similar in structure to ribose, but it has an H instead of an OH at the 2′ position. Bases can be divided into two categories: purines and pyrimidines. Purines have a double ring structure, and pyrimidines have a single ring.

    The nitrogenous bases, important components of nucleotides, are organic molecules and are so named because they contain carbon and nitrogen. They are bases because they contain an amino group that has the potential of binding an extra hydrogen, and thus, decreases the hydrogen ion concentration in its environment, making it more basic. Each nucleotide in DNA contains one of four possible nitrogenous bases: adenine (A), guanine (G) cytosine (C), and thymine (T).

    Adenine and guanine are classified as purines. The primary structure of a purine is two carbon-nitrogen rings. Cytosine, thymine, and uracil are classified as pyrimidines which have a single carbon-nitrogen ring as their primary structure (Figure 4.31). Each of these basic carbon-nitrogen rings has different functional groups attached to it. In molecular biology shorthand, the nitrogenous bases are simply known by their symbols A, T, G, C, and U. DNA contains A, T, G, and C whereas RNA contains A, U, G, and C.

    The pentose sugar in DNA is deoxyribose, and in RNA, the sugar is ribose (Figure 4.31). The difference between the sugars is the presence of the hydroxyl group on the second carbon of the ribose and hydrogen on the second carbon of the deoxyribose. The carbon atoms of the sugar molecule are numbered as 1′, 2′, 3′, 4′, and 5′ (1′ is read as “one prime”). The phosphate residue is attached to the hydroxyl group of the 5′ carbon of one sugar and the hydroxyl group of the 3′ carbon of the sugar of the next nucleotide, which forms a 5′–3′ phosphodiester linkage. The phosphodiester linkage is not formed by simple dehydration reaction like the other linkages connecting monomers in macromolecules: its formation involves the removal of two phosphate groups. A polynucleotide may have thousands of such phosphodiester linkages.

    DNA Double-Helix Structure

    DNA has a double-helix structure (Figure 4.32). The sugar and phosphate lie on the outside of the helix, forming the backbone of the DNA. The nitrogenous bases are stacked in the interior, like the steps of a staircase, in pairs; the pairs are bound to each other by hydrogen bonds. Every base pair in the double helivx is separated from the next base pair by 0.34 nm. The two strands of the helix run in opposite directions, meaning that the 5′ carbon end of one strand will face the 3′ carbon end of its matching strand. (This is referred to as antiparallel orientation and is important to DNA replication and in many nucleic acid interactions.)

    Figure_03_05_02.jpg
    Figure 4.32
    Native DNA is an antiparallel double helix. The phosphate backbone (indicated by the curvy lines) is on the outside, and the bases are on the inside. Each base from one strand interacts via hydrogen bonding with a base from the opposing strand. (credit: Jerome Walker/Dennis Myts)

    Only certain types of base pairing are allowed. For example, a certain purine can only pair with a certain pyrimidine. This means A can pair with T, and G can pair with C, as shown in Figure 4.33. This is known as the base complementary rule. In other words, the DNA strands are complementary to each other. If the sequence of one strand is AATTGGCC, the complementary strand would have the sequence TTAACCGG. During DNA replication, each strand is copied, resulting in a daughter DNA double helix containing one parental DNA strand and a newly synthesized strand.

    Art Connection

    Figure_03_05_03.png
    Figure 4.33
    In a double stranded DNA molecule, the two strands run antiparallel to one another so that one strand runs 5′ to 3′ and the other 3′ to 5′. The phosphate backbone is located on the outside, and the bases are in the middle. Adenine forms hydrogen bonds (or base pairs) with thymine, and guanine base pairs with cytosine.

    A mutation occurs, and cytosine is replaced with adenine. What impact do you think this will have on the DNA structure?

    RNA

    Ribonucleic acid, or RNA, is mainly involved in the process of protein synthesis under the direction of DNA. RNA is usually single-stranded and is made of ribonucleotides that are linked by phosphodiester bonds. A ribonucleotide in the RNA chain contains ribose (the pentose sugar), one of the four nitrogenous bases (A, U, G, and C), and the phosphate group.

    There are four major types of RNA: messenger RNA (mRNA), ribosomal RNA (rRNA), transfer RNA (tRNA), and microRNA (miRNA). The first, mRNA, carries the message from DNA, which controls all of the cellular activities in a cell. If a cell requires a certain protein to be synthesized, the gene for this product is turned “on” and the messenger RNA is synthesized in the nucleus. The RNA base sequence is complementary to the coding sequence of the DNA from which it has been copied. However, in RNA, the base T is absent and U is present instead. If the DNA strand has a sequence AATTGCGC, the sequence of the complementary RNA is UUAACGCG. In the cytoplasm, the mRNA interacts with ribosomes and other cellular machinery (Figure 4.34).

    Figure_03_05_04.jpg
    Figure 4.34
    A ribosome has two parts: a large subunit and a small subunit. The mRNA sits in between the two subunits. A tRNA molecule recognizes a codon on the mRNA, binds to it by complementary base pairing, and adds the correct amino acid to the growing peptide chain.

    The mRNA is read in sets of three bases known as codons. Each codon codes for a single amino acid. In this way, the mRNA is read and the protein product is made. Ribosomal RNA (rRNA) is a major constituent of ribosomes on which the mRNA binds. The rRNA ensures the proper alignment of the mRNA and the ribosomes; the rRNA of the ribosome also has an enzymatic activity (peptidyl transferase) and catalyzes the formation of the peptide bonds between two aligned amino acids. Transfer RNA (tRNA) is one of the smallest of the four types of RNA, usually 70–90 nucleotides long. It carries the correct amino acid to the site of protein synthesis. It is the base pairing between the tRNA and mRNA that allows for the correct amino acid to be inserted in the polypeptide chain. microRNAs are the smallest RNA molecules and their role involves the regulation of gene expression by interfering with the expression of certain mRNA messages. Table 4.2 summarizes features of DNA and RNA.

    Table 4.2.
    Features of DNA and RNA
     DNA RNA
    FunctionCarries genetic informationInvolved in protein synthesis
    LocationRemains in the nucleusLeaves the nucleus
    StructureDouble helixUsually single-stranded
    SugarDeoxyriboseRibose
    PyrimidinesCytosine, thymineCytosine, uracil
    PurinesAdenine, guanineAdenine, guanine

    Even though the RNA is single stranded, most RNA types show extensive intramolecular base pairing between complementary sequences, creating a predictable three-dimensional structure essential for their function.

    As you have learned, information flow in an organism takes place from DNA to RNA to protein. DNA dictates the structure of mRNA in a process known as transcription, and RNA dictates the structure of protein in a process known as translation. This is known as the Central Dogma of Life, which holds true for all organisms; however, exceptions to the rule occur in connection with viral infections.

    Link to Learning
    DNA.png

    To learn more about DNA, explore the Howard Hughes Medical Institute BioInteractive animations on the topic of DNA.

    Glossary

    alpha-helix structure (α-helix)

    type of secondary structure of proteins formed by folding of the polypeptide into a helix shape with hydrogen bonds stabilizing the structure

    amino acid

    monomer of a protein; has a central carbon or alpha carbon to which an amino group, a carboxyl group, a hydrogen, and an R group or side chain is attached; the R group is different for all 20 amino acids

    beta-pleated sheet (β-pleated)

    secondary structure found in proteins in which “pleats” are formed by hydrogen bonding between atoms on the backbone of the polypeptide chain

    biological macromolecule

    large molecule necessary for life that is built from smaller organic molecules

    carbohydrate

    biological macromolecule in which the ratio of carbon to hydrogen and to oxygen is 1:2:1; carbohydrates serve as energy sources and structural support in cells and form the a cellular exoskeleton of arthropods

    cellulose

    polysaccharide that makes up the cell wall of plants; provides structural support to the cell

    chaperone

    (also, chaperonin) protein that helps nascent protein in the folding process

    chitin

    type of carbohydrate that forms the outer skeleton of all arthropods that include crustaceans and insects; it also forms the cell walls of fungi

    dehydration synthesis

    (also, condensation) reaction that links monomer molecules together, releasing a molecule of water for each bond formed

    denaturation

    loss of shape in a protein as a result of changes in temperature, pH, or exposure to chemicals

    deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA)

    double-helical molecule that carries the hereditary information of the cell

    disaccharide

    two sugar monomers that are linked together by a glycosidic bond

    enzyme

    catalyst in a biochemical reaction that is usually a complex or conjugated protein

    glycogen

    storage carbohydrate in animals

    glycosidic bond

    bond formed by a dehydration reaction between two monosaccharides with the elimination of a water molecule

    hormone

    chemical signaling molecule, usually protein or steroid, secreted by endocrine cells that act to control or regulate specific physiological processes

    hydrolysis

    reaction causes breakdown of larger molecules into smaller molecules with the utilization of water

    lipid

    macromolecule that is nonpolar and insoluble in water

    messenger RNA (mRNA)

    RNA that carries information from DNA to ribosomes during protein synthesis

    monomer

    smallest unit of larger molecules called polymers

    monosaccharide

    single unit or monomer of carbohydrates

    nucleic acid

    biological macromolecule that carries the genetic blueprint of a cell and carries instructions for the functioning of the cell

    nucleotide

    monomer of nucleic acids; contains a pentose sugar, one or more phosphate groups, and a nitrogenous base

    omega fat

    type of polyunsaturated fat that is required by the body; the numbering of the carbon omega starts from the methyl end or the end that is farthest from the carboxylic end

    peptide bond

    bond formed between two amino acids by a dehydration reaction

    phosphodiester

    linkage covalent chemical bond that holds together the polynucleotide chains with a phosphate group linking two pentose sugars of neighboring nucleotides

    phospholipid

    major constituent of the membranes; composed of two fatty acids and a phosphate-containing group attached to a glycerol backbone

    polymer

    chain of monomer residues that is linked by covalent bonds; polymerization is the process of polymer formation from monomers by condensation

    polynucleotide

    long chain of nucleotides

    polypeptide

    long chain of amino acids linked by peptide bonds

    polysaccharide

    long chain of monosaccharides; may be branched or unbranched

    primary structure

    linear sequence of amino acids in a protein

    protein

    biological macromolecule composed of one or more chains of amino acids

    purine

    type of nitrogenous base in DNA and RNA; adenine and guanine are purines

    pyrimidine

    type of nitrogenous base in DNA and RNA; cytosine, thymine, and uracil are pyrimidines

    quaternary structure

    association of discrete polypeptide subunits in a protein

    ribonucleic acid (RNA)

    single-stranded, often internally base paired, molecule that is involved in protein synthesis

    ribosomal RNA (rRNA)

    RNA that ensures the proper alignment of the mRNA and the ribosomes during protein synthesis and catalyzes the formation of the peptide linkage

    saturated fatty acid

    long-chain of hydrocarbon with single covalent bonds in the carbon chain; the number of hydrogen atoms attached to the carbon skeleton is maximized

    secondary structure

    regular structure formed by proteins by intramolecular hydrogen bonding between the oxygen atom of one amino acid residue and the hydrogen attached to the nitrogen atom of another amino acid residue

    starch

    storage carbohydrate in plants

    steroid

    type of lipid composed of four fused hydrocarbon rings forming a planar structure

    tertiary structure

    three-dimensional conformation of a protein, including interactions between secondary structural elements; formed from interactions between amino acid side chains

    trans fat

    fat formed artificially by hydrogenating oils, leading to a different arrangement of double bond(s) than those found in naturally occurring lipids

    transcription

    process through which messenger RNA forms on a template of DNA

    transfer RNA (tRNA)

    RNA that carries activated amino acids to the site of protein synthesis on the ribosome

    translation

    process through which RNA directs the formation of protein

    triacylglycerol (also, triglyceride)

    fat molecule; consists of three fatty acids linked to a glycerol molecule

    unsaturated fatty acid

    long-chain hydrocarbon that has one or more double bonds in the hydrocarbon chain

    wax

    lipid made of a long-chain fatty acid that is esterified to a long-chain alcohol; serves as a protective coating on some feathers, aquatic mammal fur, and leaves

    Sections Summary

    Proteins, carbohydrates, nucleic acids, and lipids are the four major classes of biological macromolecules—large molecules necessary for life that are built from smaller organic molecules. Macromolecules are made up of single units known as monomers that are joined by covalent bonds to form larger polymers. The polymer is more than the sum of its parts: it acquires new characteristics, and leads to an osmotic pressure that is much lower than that formed by its ingredients; this is an important advantage in the maintenance of cellular osmotic conditions. A monomer joins with another monomer with the release of a water molecule, leading to the formation of a covalent bond. These types of reactions are known as dehydration or condensation reactions. When polymers are broken down into smaller units (monomers), a molecule of water is used for each bond broken by these reactions; such reactions are known as hydrolysis reactions. Dehydration and hydrolysis reactions are similar for all macromolecules, but each monomer and polymer reaction is specific to its class. Dehydration reactions typically require an investment of energy for new bond formation, while hydrolysis reactions typically release energy by breaking bonds.

    Carbohydrates are a group of macromolecules that are a vital energy source for the cell and provide structural support to plant cells, fungi, and all of the arthropods that include lobsters, crabs, shrimp, insects, and spiders. Carbohydrates are classified as monosaccharides, disaccharides, and polysaccharides depending on the number of monomers in the molecule. Monosaccharides are linked by glycosidic bonds that are formed as a result of dehydration reactions, forming disaccharides and polysaccharides with the elimination of a water molecule for each bond formed. Glucose, galactose, and fructose are common monosaccharides, whereas common disaccharides include lactose, maltose, and sucrose. Starch and glycogen, examples of polysaccharides, are the storage forms of glucose in plants and animals, respectively. The long polysaccharide chains may be branched or unbranched. Cellulose is an example of an unbranched polysaccharide, whereas amylopectin, a constituent of starch, is a highly branched molecule. Storage of glucose, in the form of polymers like starch of glycogen, makes it slightly less accessible for metabolism; however, this prevents it from leaking out of the cell or creating a high osmotic pressure that could cause excessive water uptake by the cell.

    Lipids are a class of macromolecules that are nonpolar and hydrophobic in nature. Major types include fats and oils, waxes, phospholipids, and steroids. Fats are a stored form of energy and are also known as triacylglycerols or triglycerides. Fats are made up of fatty acids and either glycerol or sphingosine. Fatty acids may be unsaturated or saturated, depending on the presence or absence of double bonds in the hydrocarbon chain. If only single bonds are present, they are known as saturated fatty acids. Unsaturated fatty acids may have one or more double bonds in the hydrocarbon chain. Phospholipids make up the matrix of membranes. They have a glycerol or sphingosine backbone to which two fatty acid chains and a phosphate-containing group are attached. Steroids are another class of lipids. Their basic structure has four fused carbon rings. Cholesterol is a type of steroid and is an important constituent of the plasma membrane, where it helps to maintain the fluid nature of the membrane. It is also the precursor of steroid hormones such as testosterone.

    Proteins are a class of macromolecules that perform a diverse range of functions for the cell. They help in metabolism by providing structural support and by acting as enzymes, carriers, or hormones. The building blocks of proteins (monomers) are amino acids. Each amino acid has a central carbon that is linked to an amino group, a carboxyl group, a hydrogen atom, and an R group or side chain. There are 20 commonly occurring amino acids, each of which differs in the R group. Each amino acid is linked to its neighbors by a peptide bond. A long chain of amino acids is known as a polypeptide.

    Proteins are organized at four levels: primary, secondary, tertiary, and (optional) quaternary. The primary structure is the unique sequence of amino acids. The local folding of the polypeptide to form structures such as the α helix and β-pleated sheet constitutes the secondary structure. The overall three-dimensional structure is the tertiary structure. When two or more polypeptides combine to form the complete protein structure, the configuration is known as the quaternary structure of a protein. Protein shape and function are intricately linked; any change in shape caused by changes in temperature or pH may lead to protein denaturation and a loss in function.

    Nucleic acids are molecules made up of nucleotides that direct cellular activities such as cell division and protein synthesis. Each nucleotide is made up of a pentose sugar, a nitrogenous base, and a phosphate group. There are two types of nucleic acids: DNA and RNA. DNA carries the genetic blueprint of the cell and is passed on from parents to offspring (in the form of chromosomes). It has a double-helical structure with the two strands running in opposite directions, connected by hydrogen bonds, and complementary to each other. RNA is single-stranded and is made of a pentose sugar (ribose), a nitrogenous base, and a phosphate group. RNA is involved in protein synthesis and its regulation. Messenger RNA (mRNA) is copied from the DNA, is exported from the nucleus to the cytoplasm, and contains information for the construction of proteins. Ribosomal RNA (rRNA) is a part of the ribosomes at the site of protein synthesis, whereas transfer RNA (tRNA) carries the amino acid to the site of protein synthesis. microRNA regulates the use of mRNA for protein synthesis.

    Art Connections

    Figure 4.5 What kind of sugars are these, aldose or ketose?

    Figure 4.5 Glucose and galactose are aldoses. Fructose is a ketose.

    Figure 4.23 Which categories of amino acid would you expect to find on the surface of a soluble protein, and which would you expect to find in the interior? What distribution of amino acids would you expect to find in a protein embedded in a lipid bilayer?

    Figure 4.23 Polar and charged amino acid residues (the remainder after peptide bond formation) are more likely to be found on the surface of soluble proteins where they can interact with water, and nonpolar (e.g., amino acid side chains) are more likely to be found in the interior where they are sequestered from water. In membrane proteins, nonpolar and hydrophobic amino acid side chains associate with the hydrophobic tails of phospholipids, while polar and charged amino acid side chains interact with the polar head groups or with the aqueous solution. However, there are exceptions. Sometimes, positively and negatively charged amino acid side chains interact with one another in the interior of a protein, and polar or charged amino acid side chains that interact with a ligand can be found in the ligand binding pocket.

    Figure 4.33 A mutation occurs, and cytosine is replaced with adenine. What impact do you think this will have on the DNA structure?

    Figure 4.33 Adenine is larger than cytosine and will not be able to base pair properly with the guanine on the opposing strand. This will cause the DNA to bulge. DNA repair enzymes may recognize the bulge and replace the incorrect nucleotide.

    Multiple Choice

    Dehydration synthesis leads to formation of

    1. monomers

    2. polymers

    3. water and polymers

    4. none of the above

    During the breakdown of polymers, which of the following reactions takes place?

    1. hydrolysis

    2. dehydration

    3. condensation

    4. covalent bond

    An example of a monosaccharide is ________.

    1. fructose

    2. glucose

    3. galactose

    4. all of the above

    Cellulose and starch are examples of:

    1. monosaccharides

    2. disaccharides

    3. lipids

    4. polysaccharides

    Plant cell walls contain which of the following in abundance?

    1. starch

    2. cellulose

    3. glycogen

    4. lactose

    Lactose is a disaccharide formed by the formation of a ________ bond between glucose and ________.

    1. glycosidic; lactose

    2. glycosidic; galactose

    3. hydrogen; sucrose

    4. hydrogen; fructose

    Saturated fats have all of the following characteristics except:

    1. they are solid at room temperature

    2. they have single bonds within the carbon chain

    3. they are usually obtained from animal sources

    4. they tend to dissolve in water easily

    Phospholipids are important components of ________.

    1. the plasma membrane of animal cells

    2. the ring structure of steroids

    3. the waxy covering on leaves

    4. the double bond in hydrocarbon chains

    The monomers that make up proteins are called ________.

    1. nucleotides

    2. disaccharides

    3. amino acids

    4. chaperones

    The α helix and the β-pleated sheet are part of which protein structure?

    1. primary

    2. secondary

    3. tertiary

    4. quaternary

    A nucleotide of DNA may contain ________.

    1. ribose, uracil, and a phosphate group

    2. deoxyribose, uracil, and a phosphate group

    3. deoxyribose, thymine, and a phosphate group

    4. ribose, thymine, and a phosphate group

    The building blocks of nucleic acids are ________.

    1. sugars

    2. nitrogenous bases

    3. peptides

    4. nucleotides

    Free Response

    Why are biological macromolecules considered organic?

    Biological macromolecules are organic because they contain carbon.

    What role do electrons play in dehydration synthesis and hydrolysis?

    In a dehydration synthesis reaction, the hydrogen of one monomer combines with the hydroxyl group of another monomer, releasing a molecule of water. This creates an opening in the outer shells of atoms in the monomers, which can share electrons and form covalent bonds.

    Describe the similarities and differences between glycogen and starch.

    Glycogen and starch are polysaccharides. They are the storage form of glucose. Glycogen is stored in animals in the liver and in muscle cells, whereas starch is stored in the roots, seeds, and leaves of plants. Starch has two different forms, one unbranched (amylose) and one branched (amylopectin), whereas glycogen is a single type of a highly branched molecule.

    Why is it impossible for humans to digest food that contains cellulose?

    The β 1-4 glycosidic linkage in cellulose cannot be broken down by human digestive enzymes. Herbivores such as cows, koalas, and buffalos are able to digest grass that is rich in cellulose and use it as a food source because bacteria and protists in their digestive systems, especially in the rumen, secrete the enzyme cellulase. Cellulases can break down cellulose into glucose monomers that can be used as an energy source by the animal.

    Explain at least three functions that lipids serve in plants and/or animals.

    Fat serves as a valuable way for animals to store energy. It can also provide insulation. Waxes can protect plant leaves and mammalian fur from getting wet. Phospholipids and steroids are important components of animal cell membranes, as well as plant, fungal, and bacterial membranes.

    Why have trans fats been banned from some restaurants? How are they created?

    Trans fats are created artificially when hydrogen gas is bubbled through oils to solidify them. The double bonds of the cis conformation in the hydrocarbon chain may be converted to double bonds in the trans configuration. Some restaurants are banning trans fats because they cause higher levels of LDL, or “bad”cholesterol.

    Explain what happens if even one amino acid is substituted for another in a polypeptide chain. Provide a specific example.

    A change in gene sequence can lead to a different amino acid being added to a polypeptide chain instead of the normal one. This causes a change in protein structure and function. For example, in sickle cell anemia, the hemoglobin β chain has a single amino acid substitution—the amino acid glutamic acid in position six is substituted by valine. Because of this change, hemoglobin molecules form aggregates, and the disc-shaped red blood cells assume a crescent shape, which results in serious health problems.

    Describe the differences in the four protein structures.

    The sequence and number of amino acids in a polypeptide chain is its primary structure. The local folding of the polypeptide in some regions is the secondary structure of the protein. The three-dimensional structure of a polypeptide is known as its tertiary structure, created in part by chemical interactions such as hydrogen bonds between polar side chains, van der Waals interactions, disulfide linkages, and hydrophobic interactions. Some proteins are formed from multiple polypeptides, also known as subunits, and the interaction of these subunits forms the quaternary structure.

    What are the structural differences between RNA and DNA?

    DNA has a double-helix structure. The sugar and the phosphate are on the outside of the helix and the nitrogenous bases are in the interior. The monomers of DNA are nucleotides containing deoxyribose, one of the four nitrogenous bases (A, T, G and C), and a phosphate group. RNA is usually single-stranded and is made of ribonucleotides that are linked by phosphodiester linkages. A ribonucleotide contains ribose (the pentose sugar), one of the four nitrogenous bases (A,U, G, and C), and the phosphate group.

    What are the four types of RNA and how do they function?

    The four types of RNA are messenger RNA, ribosomal RNA, transfer RNA, and microRNA. Messenger RNA carries the information from the DNA that controls all cellular activities. The mRNA binds to the ribosomes that are constructed of proteins and rRNA, and tRNA transfers the correct amino acid to the site of protein synthesis. microRNA regulates the availability of mRNA for translation.

    Solutions

    Figure 4.5 Glucose and galactose are aldoses. Fructose is a ketose.

    Figure 4.23 Polar and charged amino acid residues (the remainder after peptide bond formation) are more likely to be found on the surface of soluble proteins where they can interact with water, and nonpolar (e.g., amino acid side chains) are more likely to be found in the interior where they are sequestered from water. In membrane proteins, nonpolar and hydrophobic amino acid side chains associate with the hydrophobic tails of phospholipids, while polar and charged amino acid side chains interact with the polar head groups or with the aqueous solution. However, there are exceptions. Sometimes, positively and negatively charged amino acid side chains interact with one another in the interior of a protein, and polar or charged amino acid side chains that interact with a ligand can be found in the ligand binding pocket.

    Figure 4.33 Adenine is larger than cytosine and will not be able to base pair properly with the guanine on the opposing strand. This will cause the DNA to bulge. DNA repair enzymes may recognize the bulge and replace the incorrect nucleotide.

    Biological macromolecules are organic because they contain carbon.

    In a dehydration synthesis reaction, the hydrogen of one monomer combines with the hydroxyl group of another monomer, releasing a molecule of water. This creates an opening in the outer shells of atoms in the monomers, which can share electrons and form covalent bonds.

    Glycogen and starch are polysaccharides. They are the storage form of glucose. Glycogen is stored in animals in the liver and in muscle cells, whereas starch is stored in the roots, seeds, and leaves of plants. Starch has two different forms, one unbranched (amylose) and one branched (amylopectin), whereas glycogen is a single type of a highly branched molecule.

    The β 1-4 glycosidic linkage in cellulose cannot be broken down by human digestive enzymes. Herbivores such as cows, koalas, and buffalos are able to digest grass that is rich in cellulose and use it as a food source because bacteria and protists in their digestive systems, especially in the rumen, secrete the enzyme cellulase. Cellulases can break down cellulose into glucose monomers that can be used as an energy source by the animal.

    Fat serves as a valuable way for animals to store energy. It can also provide insulation. Waxes can protect plant leaves and mammalian fur from getting wet. Phospholipids and steroids are important components of animal cell membranes, as well as plant, fungal, and bacterial membranes.

    Trans fats are created artificially when hydrogen gas is bubbled through oils to solidify them. The double bonds of the cis conformation in the hydrocarbon chain may be converted to double bonds in the trans configuration. Some restaurants are banning trans fats because they cause higher levels of LDL, or “bad”cholesterol.

    A change in gene sequence can lead to a different amino acid being added to a polypeptide chain instead of the normal one. This causes a change in protein structure and function. For example, in sickle cell anemia, the hemoglobin β chain has a single amino acid substitution—the amino acid glutamic acid in position six is substituted by valine. Because of this change, hemoglobin molecules form aggregates, and the disc-shaped red blood cells assume a crescent shape, which results in serious health problems.

    The sequence and number of amino acids in a polypeptide chain is its primary structure. The local folding of the polypeptide in some regions is the secondary structure of the protein. The three-dimensional structure of a polypeptide is known as its tertiary structure, created in part by chemical interactions such as hydrogen bonds between polar side chains, van der Waals interactions, disulfide linkages, and hydrophobic interactions. Some proteins are formed from multiple polypeptides, also known as subunits, and the interaction of these subunits forms the quaternary structure.

    DNA has a double-helix structure. The sugar and the phosphate are on the outside of the helix and the nitrogenous bases are in the interior. The monomers of DNA are nucleotides containing deoxyribose, one of the four nitrogenous bases (A, T, G and C), and a phosphate group. RNA is usually single-stranded and is made of ribonucleotides that are linked by phosphodiester linkages. A ribonucleotide contains ribose (the pentose sugar), one of the four nitrogenous bases (A,U, G, and C), and the phosphate group.

    The four types of RNA are messenger RNA, ribosomal RNA, transfer RNA, and microRNA. Messenger RNA carries the information from the DNA that controls all cellular activities. The mRNA binds to the ribosomes that are constructed of proteins and rRNA, and tRNA transfers the correct amino acid to the site of protein synthesis. microRNA regulates the availability of mRNA for translation.