All atoms are made up of the same basic building blocks. They have a nucleus that is filled with protons and neutrons and that nucleus is surrounded by electrons. Carbon is the 6th element on the periodic table and is the basic building block of life. Why?
Well, there are a few reasons. The first reason that carbon has the unique ability to form stable bonds with a large variety of other elements, including itself. Carbon can form four covalent bonds (single, double, or triple) and in different geometries.
A covalent bond is a bond that is formed when atoms share electrons. These bonds tend to be very stable.
Since carbon has this versatility it can form a variety of complex molecules. These can be sorted into four different groups:
- Nucleic Acids
These four groups are essential to life. The chart below explains each type.
|Type of Compound||Examples||Elements||Functions||Monomer|
|Carbohydrates||sugars, starches||carbon, hydrogen, oxygen||provides energy to cells, stores energy, forms body structures||monosaccharide|
|Lipids||fats, oils||carbon, hydrogen, oxygen||stores energy, forms cell membranes, carries messages|
|Proteins||enzymes, antibodies||carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur||helps cells keep their shape, makes up muscles, speeds up chemical reactions, carries messages and materials||amino acid|
|Nucleic Acids||DNA, RNA||carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus||contains instructions for proteins, passes instructions from parents to offspring, helps make proteins||nucleotide|
So carbon is unique because of a few reasons:
- All living things have carbon in them in one form or another.
- Carbon has a unique structure that allows it to form four stable bonds
- Carbon makes up the molecules that are essential to life
I hope this has helped shed some light on what makes carbon so special. As always, please feel free to ask questions.
- Image 1 and chart: http://www.ck12.org/biology/Significance-of-Carbon/lesson/Significance-of-Carbon-BIO/
- Image 2: http://www.chem.ucla.edu/~harding/IGOC/T/triple_bond.html
- Image 3: http://slideplayer.com/slide/4180947/