Cellulose & Glycogen Structures: Similarities & Comparison

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  • 0:00 What Are Cellulose and…
  • 0:44 Shapes of Glycogen and…
  • 1:45 Cellulose and Glycogen…
  • 3:28 Cellulose in Plants
  • 4:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

This lesson is on cellulose and glycogen. In this lesson we'll define and look at characteristics of each molecule. We'll also specifically look at similarities and differences between cellulose and glycogen.

What Are Cellulose and Glycogen?

Plants and humans are made of a lot of the same things. We both have sugars, proteins and fats that are totally necessary for our survival. One sugar in particular, glucose, is essential for both plants and animals, although we use them in slightly different ways. Animals use glucose primarily for energy. When we have plenty of glucose from a carbohydrate rich meal, like pasta, our bodies store it away for later in the form of glycogen. Glycogen is a giant polymer of glucose, meaning it is made of many glucose molecules put together. Cellulose is another giant glucose polymer, although this is how plants store glucose.

Shapes of Glycogen and Cellulose

All polymers, like glucose and cellulose, are made of smaller pieces called monomers. Think of monomers like Legos for building a toy car. Cellulose and glycogen each use the same monomer, glucose. Glucose is a ring structure with six carbon atoms. Individual glucose rings can be connected together at different carbons to create different structures. In addition, some pieces of the ring are flipped, creating two different versions of glucose, called alpha and beta.

In glycogen, the glucoses can be connected at the first and fourth carbon, called alpha 1,4-glycosidic linkages or at the first and sixth carbon, alpha 1,6-glycosidic linkages. This allows the glycogen to branch and create a winding pattern. However, cellulose has beta 1,4-glycosidic linkages, making it a firm straight chain. Let's look how these shapes convey the function of each molecule next.

Cellulose and Glycogen in Animals

Although glycogen and cellulose are made of nearly the same thing, their shapes allow them to perform different functions inside the cell. Glycogen is a branched structure important in storing energy inside animal cells. When we eat an excess of glucose, or sugar, our intestines send the sugars to the liver. The liver stores the extra sugar as energy in the form of glycogen for later use. Muscles also store glycogen, which can be used during exercise to provide quick energy. Glycogen is readily broken down and reassembled by animal cells.

Cellulose, however, is only found in plant cells. Its beta 1,4-glycosidic linkages can't be broken down in our bodies. When we eat plants, like vegetables, the cellulose remains mostly intact and undigested. This is what dietitians refer to as fiber. The fiber helps move food through our digestive system efficiently, keeping the conveyor belt of our digestive system moving smoothly.

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