Glycolipids: Definition, Function & Structure

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  • 0:00 What Are Glycolipids?
  • 0:50 Carbohydrates
  • 1:36 Carbohydrate-Lipid…
  • 2:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dominic Corsini
While you may be unfamiliar with the term, glycolipids perform several important functions in the human body. In this lesson, we'll take a look at the parts and purpose of glycolipids.

What Are Glycolipids?

Although we can't see them at work, our bodies contain four types of macromolecules: carbohydrates, lipids, nucleic acids, and proteins. Macromolecules are large molecules that your body uses for a variety of functions. For the purposes of this lesson, we'll only concern ourselves with two: lipids and carbohydrates.

Lipids are essentially fats and oils, and they serve a variety of functions within the body. Some of these functions include insulation, cushioning, energy storage, and making cell membranes. In fact, the lipids' ability to make a cell membrane is vital to your health and bodily function. Glycolipids are lipids with a carbohydrate group attached to them, and as you're about to learn, these two macromolecules share a very special relationship.


Carbohydrates, or carbs for short, often function as an energy source and can be found in foods such as pasta, cereal, or other bread-related products. Take a look at a nutrition label from virtually any piece of food in your kitchen. That label will tell you how many grams of carbohydrates are contained within the food or drink.

However, carbohydrates serve other functions aside from providing your body with energy. One such function is cell recognition, such as that which occurs in the human immune system. Here, white blood cells (WBC) maintain your good health by attacking foreign substances, such as bacteria that infect the body. How do the WBC's recognize the bacteria as foreign substances? Well, they use cell recognition molecules, such as carbohydrates.

Carbohydrate-Lipid Relationship

Now, let's link examine the relationship between the carbohydrates used in cell recognition and the lipids used in cell membrane building.

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