Skip to main content
Chemistry LibreTexts

24: Chemistry of Life: Organic and Biological Chemistry

  • Page ID
  • Carbon is unique among the elements in its ability to catenate, to form a wide variety of compounds that contain long chains and/or rings of carbon atoms. Some of the most complex chemical structures known are those of the organic molecules found in living organisms. In spite of their size and complexity, these biological molecules obey the same chemical principles as simpler organic molecules. Thus we can use Lewis electron structures to understand the preferred mode of reactivity of a variety of organic compounds, relative electronegativities and bond polarities to predict how certain groups of atoms will react, and molecular orbital theory to explain why certain organic species that contain multiple bonds are especially stable or undergo particular reactions when they interact with light.

    In this chapter, we continue our description of organic compounds by focusing on their molecular structures and reactivity; we will also introduce some of the fundamental types of reactions and reaction mechanisms you will encounter in organic and biological chemistry. We discuss why butter is a solid and oils are liquids despite the apparent similarities in their structures, why the widely used anti-inflammatory drug ibuprofen takes longer than half an hour to relieve pain, and the identity of the major carcinogen in grilled meats and cigarette smoke. The chapter concludes with a brief introduction to the molecules of life, which will explain how the consumption of lactose can result in mental retardation and cirrhosis of the liver in some individuals, how hibernating animals survive during the winter, and how certain groups of antibiotics kill bacteria that are harmful to humans.

      Thumbnail: DNA Double Helix. Image used with permission (Public Domain; National Human Genome Research Institute)

      • Was this article helpful?