Acyl Phosphate: Definition & Structure

Instructor: Korry Barnes

Korry has a Ph.D. in organic chemistry and teaches college chemistry courses.

What is an acyl phosphate group and how can they be made in the lab? In this lesson, we will be learning about the definition of an acyl phosphate and discussing their general structure.

Can't Live Without Phosphorus

Have you ever tried to plant some flowers at home or do some gardening in your backyard? If you have, you've like used some sort of plant food to help them grow and give them nutrients. What you probably didn't realize was that one of the main and most important components of plant food is actually the element phosphorus.

Phosphorus is a unique element, and did you know that life wouldn't be possible without it? You see, phosphorus is contained in several biological molecules that our bodies depend on to carry out normal biological reactions vital to keep us running. In our lesson today we are going to be discussing a specific type of phosphorus-containing compound known as an acyl phosphate. Let's see what phosphorus can do!

Definition of an Acyl Phosphate

Let's kickstart our discussion by talking about how acyl phosphates are defined by first looking at the two main components of them, then taking their formal definition.

Phosphate Group

One of the components of an acyl phosphate is the phosphate group itself. A phosphate group contains a central phosphorus atom bonded to four total oxygen atoms. One of the bonds is a phosphorus-oxygen double bond and the other three are all single bonds.

If we're talking about just the phosphate group in pure form, three of the oxygen atom carry formal negative charges and so a lot of times the structure of a phosphate group is drawn with three counter-ions that serve just to balance the charges and make the overall charge of the species neutral. For instance, if a phosphate group needed to be overall neutral we would need three sodium ions (each with a positive charge) to balance out the negative charges on each of the three oxygen atoms.


The structure of the phosphate group
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Acyl Group

In organic chemistry, an acyl group is any carbonyl group (carbon-oxygen double bond) that is bonded to an alkyl side chain of some sort. Acyl groups represent common building blocks in organic synthesis and find a wide variety of use in applications like pharmaceuticals, materials, and polymers. The 'R' group here simply represents any generic carbon-based or alkyl side chain.


An acyl group is a carbonyl group bonded to an alkyl group
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Let's put both of our pieces together now, and say that an acyl phosphate is simply a phosphate group that's bonded to an acyl group. Acyl phosphates are very important compounds in biological systems and are involved in several chemical reactions inside living cells that are vital to life.

Structure of an Acyl Phosphate

Let's move into exploring the general structure of an acyl phosphate. We know that we're dealing with a phosphate group and an acyl group but what does the structure look like in terms of the bond connectivity? Notice that the phosphate group is connected to the acyl group by a single bond and that the bond occurs between one of the oxygen atoms of the phosphate and the carbonyl carbon of the acyl group.


The general structure of an acyl phosphate
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