What is an Ester Linkage?

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  • 0:01 Organic Nomenclature
  • 0:44 Ester Linakges
  • 1:36 Esters in Nature
  • 2:20 Lipids & Ester Linkages
  • 3:17 Phosphate-Based Esters
  • 3:50 Nitrogen-Based Esters
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joseph Said
This lesson will cover the structure of an ester, how they are formed, and types of ester linkages found in nature. You'll learn about esters composed of two hydrocarbon linked by an oxygen atom, phosphoesters, and nitroesters.

Organic Nomenclature

Why are some chemicals named the way that they are? Who decides how we classify chemicals? All chemicals are named by a standard set of rules used world-wide based on chemical properties. The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) has devised a system of naming organic molecules, which have been agreed upon by all chemists in the world.

For example, a hydrocarbon is a molecule containing hydrogen and carbon. It has n carbons and (n*2)+2 hydrogens is an alkane. Any hydrocarbon which has n carbons and (n*2) hydrogen is an alkene. In this lesson we will cover a class of organic compound called an ester.

Ester Linkages

In organic chemistry, molecules are named according to their atomic composition and arrangement of those atoms. For example, a molecule containing three carbons in a row with eight hydrogens is called propane (which you might use to run a barbecue). If we add an OH group to the first or last carbon of propane, it creates propanol, which we use to clean and disinfect scrapes and scratches. Notice that both of those compounds begin with the prefix 'prop'? That prefix indicates a molecule with three carbons.

We also have a series of rules which we use to identify a compound as an ester. All esters will have a carbonyl carbon (C=O), as well as a variable hydrocarbon 'R' group linked by an oxygen atom. Esters are usually formed when a carboxylic acid reacts with an alcohol; the reaction forms a water molecule and an ester. This reaction is called esterification

Esters in Nature

Esters are found throughout nature and are an essential part of physiology. Organic acids in plants combine with carboxylic acid (which is a carbon that is bound to a variable R carbon group, double bound to an oxygen atom, and bound to an OH group) to form aroma-causing compounds. Many fruits and flowers give off their distinct scents due to naturally occurring esters, which form in the plant.

In animals, esters serve a vital function in physiology. For example, the ester acetylcholine is responsible for nerve stimuli. Without acetylcholine, animals would not be able to move their muscles or, more importantly, breathe. Many acetylcholine inhibitors are fatal to animals, as they block necessary nerve impulses.

Lipids and Ester Linkages

Ester linkages are key components of molecules called lipids. In our bodies, lipids form lipid bilayers, which compose cell membranes and other organelles within the cell. They're able to do this because of their ability to be both hydrophilic and hydrophobic. All of us have had a lava lamp at one point - did you notice the colored oil in the lamp never really mixed with the water? Well, lipids do the same thing. The cell is the basic unit of life, and without lipids serving as cell membranes, our cells would be like houses without walls, ceilings, or floors (lipids are that important!).

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