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Organic compounds, any of a large class of chemical compounds in which one or more atoms of carbon are covalently linked to atoms of other elements, most commonly hydrogen, oxygen, or nitrogen. The few carbon-containing compounds not classified as organic include carbides, carbonates, and cyanides. See chemical compound.
The term ‘organic’ was originally coined to describe molecules associated with living organisms. This section of chemistry is therefore popularly termed “the chemistry of life”, as it was discovered and previously thought to flourish exclusively in living beings. However, this definition isn’t completely true and is not the only rule to determine whether a compound is organic or inorganic. For instance, carbon dioxide is based on carbon and is highly central to both animals and plants, but it’s far from being organic.
A popular consensus has been established, insisting that organic compounds are structures that contain carbon as well as hydrogen, bonded covalently together, collectively known as a ‘C-H’ group. This group is then further attached to nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur, silicon etc. to pave the way for a plethora of organic compounds.
The enormous amount of organic compounds and their versatile nature are the result of carbon’s promiscuity, a trait that can be attributed to its unique structure. Today, nearly 2 million organic compounds have been isolated or characterized.
Chemical synthesis is concerned with the construction of complex chemical compounds from simpler ones. A synthesis usually is undertaken for one of three reasons. The first reason is to meet an industrial demand for a product. For example, ammonia is synthesized from nitrogen and hydrogen and is used to make, among other things, ammonium sulfate, employed as a fertilizer; vinyl chloride is made from ethylene and is used in the production of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic. In general, a vast range of chemical compounds are synthesized for applications as fibers and plastics, pharmaceuticals, dyestuffs, herbicides, insecticides, and other products.
Among the numerous types of organic compounds, four major categories are found in all living things: carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids.
Almost all organisms use carbohydrates as sources of energy. In addition, some carbohydrates serve as structural materials. Carbohydrates are molecules composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen; the ratio of hydrogen atoms to oxygen and carbon atoms is 2:1.
Simple carbohydrates commonly referred to as sugars, can be monosaccharides if they are composed of single molecules, or disaccharides if they are composed of two molecules. The most important monosaccharide is glucose, a carbohydrate with the molecular formula C6H12O6. Glucose is the basic form of fuel in living things. In multi cellular organisms, it is soluble and is transported by body fluids to all cells, where it is metabolized to release its energy. Glucose is the starting material for cellular respiration, and it is the main product of photosynthesis.
Lipids are organic molecules composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms. The ratio of hydrogen atoms to oxygen atoms is much higher in lipids than in carbohydrates. Lipids include steroids (the material of which many hormones are composed), waxes, and fats.
Fat molecules are composed of a glycerol molecule and one, two, or three molecules of fatty acids. A glycerol molecule contains three hydroxyl (–OH) groups. A fatty acid is a long chain of carbon atoms (from 4 to 24) with a carboxyl (–COOH) group at one end. The fatty acids in a fat may all be alike or they may all be different. They are bound to the glycerol molecule by a process that involves the removal of water.
Like proteins, nucleic acids are very large molecules. The nucleic acids are composed of smaller units called nucleotides. Each nucleotide contains a carbohydrate molecule (sugar), a phosphate group, and a nitrogen-containing molecule that, because of its properties, is a nitrogenous base.
Living organisms have two important nucleic acids. One type is deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA. The other is ribonucleic acid, or RNA. DNA is found primarily in the nucleus of the cell, while RNA is found in both the nucleus and the cytoplasm, a semi liquid substance that composes the volume of the cell.
Organic chemistry is a highly creative science in which chemists create new molecules and explore the properties of existing compounds. Organic compounds are all around us. They are central to the economic growth of the United States in the rubber, plastics, fuel, pharmaceutical, cosmetics, detergent, coatings, dyestuff, and agrichemical industries, to name a few. The very foundations of biochemistry, biotechnology, and medicine are built on organic compounds and their role in life processes. Many modern, high-tech materials are at least partially composed of organic -compounds.
Organic chemists spend much of their time creating new compounds and developing better ways of synthesizing previously known compounds.