Chemistry of Cells

28/08/2010 § 1 Comment

Today’s class was probably the most confusing and the hardest to follow out of the previous three classes we’ve had so far. Not only did we cover difficult topics but we covered multiple handfuls of knowledge and yes, we all felt like our minds were bursting with information that we were finding so hard to follow.

In a way, unfortunately, we all face a disadvantage in writing this blog because it was quite difficult to understand what we were taught today. How hard will it be then for us to take what we’ve learned and apply it to our essay question?

Moving back to the essay question, though, I think last class, again, we were given a chance to see examples of how complexity emerges from simplicity. A very good example of this process, this ingenuity of how such small atoms form great and diverse creatures and organisms, would be the structuring of proteins. These proteins start off small, with the amino acids that form each protein. Even then, proteins contain typically 300 amino acids per molecule. Although some proteins are small, for example, 180 or less amino acids, they are usually at least 300 amino acids in size. Since we can’t even see proteins, we can’t even see the nutrients and the little vitamins and all the small acids that are in food, we can say proteins start off very, very, very (incredibly) small but build up to some of the most important parts in our bodies.

Some of these parts include our muscles that so heavily rely on proteins to keep them functioning. Proteins are also essential in hair, collagen, and antibodies which help our bodies fight against infection. Even these parts of our bodies, even they are small things in the circle of life that protein helps to create, but they are also very complex.

In the 300 (give or take) amino acids that make up a single protein, there are an impossibly large amount of sequences that the amino acids can form into. These sequences change the type of protein that the amino acids make, therefore providing an equally impossibly large amount of proteins in the world. The number of possibilities, we learned in class, surpasses the number of amino acids in the world, if I recall the fact correctly. The diversity in the kinds of proteins then proves how life can be so complex and diverse, providing me with backup and proof that simple little things (amino acids) can form into slightly larger and much more diverse organs or body parts.

In terms of what else we learned in class, we were taught about organic compounds and the four principle compounds: carbohydrates, lipids, proteins and nucleic acids.

Carbohydrates are organic compounds that are made up of one carbon atom, two hydrogen atoms, and one oxygen atom. The form that carbohydrates take, 1:2:1 format, shows me more proof that they mainly spend their years trying to attach themselves to other atoms and gain electrons or lose electrons to become the “ideal” molecule. We learned that carbohydrates are made of monosaccharides, which are sugars, like glucose and fructose.

We learned that lipids are not soluble and mostly insoluble non-polar molecules like oils, lard and fats. Because the molecules of lipids are non-polar, they also have no charge and don’t dissolve in the water. They simply float to the top of the glass or become bubbles after shaken. Lipids, however, store a lot of energy in our bodies and in other organisms’ bodies. Some lipids are saturated while the others are unsaturated. Saturated fatty acids are tightly packed together and are definitely unhealthy to consume for they are likely to clog up your veins and effect cardiovascular system in a bad way. Unsaturated fatty acids are better to eat because they have double covalent bonds where the hydrogen bonds have an extra ‘limb’ per se, and the fatty acid molecule is longer, thinner, and less packed.

By now, we were introduced to glycerols and triglycerides. We learned that in condensation synthesis, water is formed and that breaking things apart is hydrolysis and can be done by putting a substance or the molecule in water. This part of the class was the part where most people were asking Mr. Ferguson to “please repeat that” again and again and we were told to say the lines and to repeat the facts out loud to ourselves. Strangely, it worked.

Finally, we learned about nucleic acids. These acids are in all of our cells and make up the most important strands of information that make up who we are and what we look like. Nucleic acids are long chains of nucleotides, which are compounds made of sugar, a base, and a phosphate group which usually consist of phosphorus and oxygen atoms. The sequence of the nucleotides in DNA serves as instructions for the sequence of amino acids in proteins. Therefore, nucleotides tell the DNA to tell the amino acids how to make the proteins which will them perform many functions for the body.

As always, I was left questioning much of the lesson and as one can see, I had to write about a lot today, due to the fact that we learned a lot last class. The test is coming soon and I have yet to completely understand how complexity emerges from simplicity. What we learned about proteins helped me understand a little more about simplicity become complex, however, so that part of the lesson helped. Personally, though, the littlest atoms and molecules are so complex on their own that I can’t imagine how complex large organisms and environments could be. They could be so diverse because of little things like atoms.

§ One Response to Chemistry of Cells

  • cafergy says:


    Your posts are always great to read because you truly reflect on the content and meaning of the lesson.

    A clarification: For possible different proteins, “The number of possibilities, we learned in class, surpasses the number of amino acids in the world” should read “The number of possibilities, we learned in class, surpasses the number of atoms in the universe”. That’s a big number!!!

    For your essay, why not try, “What are the key types of molecules in organisms?: Name the four most common types molecules found in living organisms. Using the correct set of terms, explain the properties of each of the four types of molecules in terms of their structure and function, providing two examples for each type.” Or perhaps, just discuss how complexity emerges in proteins.

    In other words, don’t make things too complicated!
    Mr. F.

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