What Are Living Organisms Made Of? - Molecules & Functions

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  • 0:01 What Are Living Organisms?
  • 0:35 What Are They Made Of?
  • 1:52 Molecular Functions
  • 2:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

After watching this video, you will be able to explain what living organisms are made of, the elements, the important molecules, and how they build to perform biological functions. A short quiz will follow.

What Are Living Organisms?

A living organism is a living system, such as a vertebrate, insect, plant, or bacterium, containing lots of parts that are interdependent. But that seems a bit vague, so let's go deeper. What is it to be alive? What makes an organism be declared as living?

Unfortunately, we don't have a great answer to that question and it is still hotly debated to this day. But many scientists would contend that a living organism is capable of reproducing, growing, responding to stimuli, and self-regulating.

What are They Made of?

Although we don't know if it's the same elsewhere, living things on Earth are said to be carbon based. The most complex molecules that make us up contain carbon bonded to other elements: carbon bonded to oxygen, carbon bonded to hydrogen, carbon bonded to nitrogen. Almost everything in our bodies and the bodies of other animals and plants is made of carbon. For this reason, life on Earth is known as carbon-based life, or life that contains building blocks that are made of combinations of carbon and other elements.

There are certain key molecules that are a big part of our bodies and the bodies of other living organisms. Proteins for example, form almost our entire bodies, and proteins on Earth are based on carbon. Nucleic acids are vitally important to animal life, and indeed also contain carbon. Carbohydrates and lipids (or fats) are also major parts of the bodies of animals like us.

But it's not just carbon. Living organisms on Earth are made of a mixture of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, and phosphorous. This includes water, which has the chemical name H2O and contains two hydrogen and one oxygen atoms. In fact, our bodies are made of similar materials to the atmosphere of the Earth, which shouldn't be too surprising considering we breathe in the air every day.

Molecular Functions

Those elements that make up the body are the building blocks for proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, and nucleic acids. And those in turn are the building blocks for cells. Each cell inside the body has a particular function, and all the cells of your body work together in systems to complete their job.

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