Starch vs. Glycogen: Structure & Function

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  • 0:02 Just a Bit on Carbohydrates
  • 1:42 Starch in Plants
  • 3:05 Starch in Animals
  • 3:51 Glycogen
  • 4:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Laszlo Vass
In this lesson, we'll discuss starch and glycogen, their relationship to glucose, and how they are used by both plants and animals differently to survive. Then, take the quiz to test what you learned.

Just a Bit on Carbohydrates

If I say the word 'starch' to you, what do you think of? Most people probably think of food like a potato. Some might think of laundry, like a starched shirt. How about 'glycogen?' Does that word stir up any images? My guess is not as many as starch (if any at all). Well, in this lesson, we will hopefully add to your visual library as we explore the structure and function of both starch and glycogen.

It's worthwhile to take a moment and discuss carbohydrates as a group. The term carbohydrate comes from 'carbon' and 'water' (as in to hydrate you). The main function of carbohydrates in animals is to provide energy for cellular work. Plants are a little more complicated - they also use carbohydrates for building structures and storage.

Glucose is the simplest carbohydrate. It a single glucose molecule, also called a monosaccharide ('mono-' means 'single'; '-saccharide' means 'sugar'). All carbohydrates are made from attaching glucose molecules together through a chemical reaction called dehydration synthesis (sometimes referred to as condensation). Dehydration synthesis works by removing a water molecule (two hydrogens and one oxygen) from two monosaccharides, thus forming a bond between them.

Starch and glycogen are known as complex carbohydrates and are called polysaccharides ('poly-' means 'many'). A good analogy for these structures is to think of a train. You have a bunch of train cars all linked together. Each train car would be a monosaccharide and the whole train with all the cars together would be the polysaccharide.

Starch in Plants

Starch is a complex carbohydrate made by plants to store energy. They make energy through photosynthesis, which produces a lot of glucose. Plants use the glucose to do cellular work, but they also take the excess glucose that is not used right away and build starch from it.

Starch has a fairly rigid structure and can actually be molded into a variety of shapes. An application of this can take place at your local laundry or at home. Laundry starch is made from plant material and can be applied to fabrics to 'stiffen' them up to look crisp and wrinkle free. This was popular in the early part of the last century, but you still see starched shirts every once in a while.

In temperate climates, plants use the stored starch to survive when sunlight isn't available for photosynthesis. Kind of like a squirrel who finds some nuts and can either eat them for an immediate pick-me-up, or store them somewhere to use for food during the winter.

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