Organic Molecules: Functional Groups, Monomers & Polymers

Organic Molecules: Functional Groups, Monomers & Polymers
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  • 00:00 Organic Molecules
  • 1:43 Functional Groups
  • 3:02 Monomers and Polymers
  • 5:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Though life on Earth is incredibly diverse, all of it is built upon the same basic molecular structures. In this lesson, we'll look the basic building blocks of life and see how functional groups, monomers and polymers build up organic molecules.

Organic Molecules

Organic is big these days. We want everything to be organic, to be fresh and free of contaminants. Turns out we want our molecules to be like that, too. However, when we talk about organic molecules, we're not shopping for salad toppings. We're talking about the molecules that form the basic structures of all living things. All living things, from daisies to giraffes to algae to us, are built of organic molecules.

There are four main kinds of organic molecules that together build up the cells in our bodies. They are: carbohydrates, compounds like sugars that provide energy, proteins, the main molecules that build everything from cell walls to organs, nucleic acids, genetic material and lipids, fats used to store energy or insulate cells. There we go. Four groups of organic molecules that, when combined together, build up all living things.

Now, at one point scientists realized that all four of these had something very specific in common. They are built around chains of carbon. That's what really defines all organic molecules, a basic molecular structure built around carbon chains. Whether we're talking about the petals of a flower or the organs in your body, all living things are made of carbon-based organic molecules. Guess it doesn't matter where you buy your produce. As long as it was once living, it's all organic.

Functional Groups

It's surprising how simple this really is. All living things are built of carbon-based molecules. However, from that simple truth, things do get a bit more complicated. You may have noticed, but you look different than a tree. And that's because organic molecules contain more than just carbon. Carbon is the base structure, but from there we add on other atoms and the molecule becomes more complex, developing unique functions.

So how do we keep it all straight? Well, certain atoms will cluster together in predictable ways. We call these groups of atoms within a molecule that have a consistent and specific behavior functional groups.

Let me show you what I mean. Within many organic molecules we see clusters of a single oxygen and a single hydrogen atom. That's a functional group called the hydroxyl group, more commonly known as alcohol. Alcohol is volatile and potent. We know that when we see a single hydrogen and oxygen bonded together on a carbon that combination has potential to react a certain way. This is just one of many functional groups, all of which help scientists analyze organic molecules and understand the ways that they function.

Monomers and Polymers

Alright, so we've got the basic carbon chains and functional groups. Let's keep building up an organic molecule. As functional groups bond with carbon chains they form simple molecules called monomers. Monomers then bond together to form complex molecules called polymers. 'Poly-' means many, while 'mono-' means one. So that's a good way to remember that monomers are one basic molecule, while polymers are many molecules bonded together into a complex molecule.

Now, remember how we talked about the four basic types of organic molecules: proteins, carbohydrates, lipids and nucleic acids? Those are complex organic molecules, so they are polymers, and this means that they are built up of simpler monomers.

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