Building Blocks of Lipids: Living organisms are made of biomolecules (biological molecules) that are essential for performing physiological functions: carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids. These molecules vary in size, structure, properties, and functions in and among cells.
Generally, their structures dictate their biological function. If by any chance the structure is disrupted or distorted, this could result in the impairment of the biomolecule itself.
Among these four biomolecules, lipids are considered to be unique as they are not defined by the presence of overall structural properties. Lipids are known for their hydrophobic or “water-fearing” properties that are due to the characteristics of their building blocks: glycerol and fatty acids.
In this article, explore the building blocks of lipids as well as how they are grouped together in order to form a lipid. Let’s take a closer look.
Table of Contents
- Building Blocks of Lipids
- Structure of A Lipid
- 1. Glycerol
- 2. Fatty Acids
- Examples of Lipids
- A. Cholesterol
- B. Triglycerides
- Functions of Lipids
Building Blocks of Lipids
Structure of A Lipid
Like any other biomolecules, lipids are made up of building block monomers. In biochemistry, a monomer refers to a single molecule that when chemically combined with other monomers (can be of the same type or other molecules) can form larger and different molecules. Basically, monomers are just composed of simple elements.
- Unlike the three biomolecules, lipids are not made up of “true” polymers because of their relatively smaller size and non-repeating monomers.
- As alluded to earlier, a lipid molecule is composed of a glycerol and (three) fatty acid sub-units. They are described in the following.
Considered to be a naturally occurring three-carbon alcohol (contains one carbon molecule that is bonded to three OH groups), glycerol is a molecule that serves as the structural backbone of a lipid. Aside from that, glycerol is also used to store energy.
- Because of its OH group, glycerol can be considered as a “polyol “, a type of alcohol that contains more than one OH group. Because of this property, glycerol can be readily dissolved in water.
- Additionally, the presence of these OH groups contributes to the hygroscopic property of glycerol. In other words, it can readily take up and retain water molecules.
- In layman’s term, glycerol is also known as glycerin or glycerine. In industries, glycerol is used as sweeteners and humectants.
2. Fatty Acids
Fatty acids are chains of hydrocarbons that have various lengths and levels of unsaturation that end with carboxylic acid functional groups. The biochemical name of a fatty acid originates from the name of its parent hydrocarbon, with the final “e” being changed to “oic” and adding “acid” in the end.
- In biological systems, most fatty acids have an even number of carbon atoms, usually ranging from 14 to 24, with 16 and 18 carbon atoms being the most common. In animals, the hydrocarbon chain is always unbranched.
- The biochemical properties of fatty acids and their lipid derivatives are dependent mostly on the length of their chains and levels of saturation. As compared with their saturated counterparts (of the same length), unsaturated fatty acids tend to have lower melting points.
- In addition to this, the length of the chain also affects melting point because shorter chain lengths somehow affect the level of saturation and contribute to their fluidity.
- As compared with glycerol, fatty acids, being “fats” supply a relatively higher amount of energy per gram and have more biological roles than glycerol.
So how are these molecules combined and linked to form a lipid? The OH group found in the glycerol molecule and the carboxyl group of the fatty acids are covalently linked via an ester linkage. dehydration synthesis is needed in order to create this.
Examples of Lipids
There are actually quite a number of examples of lipids in biological systems. Below you can find the two most common and naturally occurring ones: cholesterol and triglycerides.
With a molecular formula of C27H45OH, you can see that the lipid derivative cholesterol is made up of three parts: a hydrocarbon tail, a hydroxyl group, and four hydrocarbon rings. Because of these structures (having fat soluble and water soluble regions, cholesterol is considered to be an amphipathic molecule.
- In living organisms, cholesterol serves as an important component of the cell membranes that enable the body to biochemically absorb fats and other fat derivatives like vitamins. Aside from that, cholesterol is used to synthesize vitamin D and hormones (i.e. cortisol, testosterone, and estrogen).
- While the body can naturally synthesize its own sources of cholesterol, it still needs to obtain it from other sources like food. Both synthesized and dietary cholesterol is transported in the body using lipoprotein molecules.
- Cholesterol is a type of lipid derivative that is based on steroids.
On the other hand, triglycerides are lipid derivatives that are derived mostly from glycerol. And as their name suggests, they are composed of three molecules of glycerols. Because most lipids are insoluble in water, they needed to be transported along with other molecules like proteins during circulation in the body.
- In animals, triglycerides are synthesized in the intestines and liver from fatty acid units. Contained in the fat cells, triglycerides are broken down into smaller units to provide the body with energy.
- To avoid toxicity and other harms, fatty acids are transported as triglycerides, and molecules like lipoproteins play a huge role in this process (i.e., transporting lipids to the peripheral tissues from the liver and back).
Aside from those above two, other examples of lipid derivatives include vitamins (those fat solubles one such as vitamins A, D, E, and K), and waxes. Fats, both the saturated (with single bonds) and unsaturated (with double bonds) ones, are also considered as lipid derivatives.
Functions of Lipids
Being nonpolar and hydrophobic as they are, lipids serve as strategic components of the plasma membrane and other cellular constituents like the nuclear membrane and envelope, endoplasmic reticulum (ER), Golgi body, lysosomes, and vesicles.
- Interestingly, the composition of these organelles mentioned above varies significantly, therefore suggesting that different types of lipids are needed for various biological functions.
- Like carbohydrates, lipids are also used for the storage of energy. However, the former is only used for immediate purposes while the latter serve for the long term.
- Furthermore, lipids also serve important roles in maintaining the structural integrity of organisms as well as exhibiting functions during cell signaling.
While a lot of people use the term “fats” for lipids interchangeably, it is important to note that the former is just actually a subgroup of the latter. Because of this notion, lipids are given the idea of having a negative role in health.
Despite their functions as mentioned earlier and biological importance, lipids have not been well researched as compared with the remaining biomolecules. The reason behind this is pretty simple: scientists and researchers think that fats are too complicated to work with (their nature and physiology), and the apparent lack of techniques in order to observe and visualize the levels of lipids.
Nevertheless, the recent advances and discoveries about the identification, structural properties, and biophysics of lipids suggest that this field of study has a lot more to show, thus encouraging broader exploration of these molecules.
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BioExplorer.net. (2022, August 27). Explore Building Blocks of Lipids, Structure, Functions & Examples of Lipids. Bio Explorer. https://www.bioexplorer.net/building-blocks-of-lipids.html/.
BioExplorer.net. "Explore Building Blocks of Lipids, Structure, Functions & Examples of Lipids" Bio Explorer, 27 August 2022, https://www.bioexplorer.net/building-blocks-of-lipids.html/.
BioExplorer.net. "Explore Building Blocks of Lipids, Structure, Functions & Examples of Lipids" Bio Explorer, August 27 2022. https://www.bioexplorer.net/building-blocks-of-lipids.html/.
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Glycerol and fatty acids are the basic building blocks of fats (lipids). Fats are the product of the esterification of the trivalent alcohol glycerol with fatty acids of different lengths (between 12 and 20 carbon atoms). Two important representatives of the lipids are triglyceride (90% of fats) and cholesterol.What are the building blocks and functions of lipids? ›
The building blocks of lipids are one glycerol molecule and at least one fatty acid, with a maximum of three fatty acids. Glycerol is a sugar alcohol with three OH groups. It acts as a backbone for fatty acids to bond. Fatty acids are made up of a long hydrocarbon with carboxyl group, which is represented as COOH.What is the function of lipids examples? ›
A lipid is any of various organic compounds that are insoluble in water. They include fats, waxes, oils, hormones, and certain components of membranes and function as energy-storage molecules and chemical messengers.What are examples of lipids? ›
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Major types include fats and oils, waxes, phospholipids, and steroids. Fats are a stored form of energy and are also known as triacylglycerols or triglycerides. Fats are made up of fatty acids and either glycerol or sphingosine.What are the 3 functions of lipids? ›
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Lipids include fats, oils, waxes, phospholipids, and steroids.What are the 3 types of lipids? ›
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- Structural components: The lipid molecules are the important component of the cell membrane of cells.
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- Lipid: Type # 1. Neutral or True Fats:
- Lipid: Type # 2. Waxes:
- Lipid: Type # 3. Cutin:
- Lipid: Type # 4. Suberin:
- Lipid: Type # 5. Phospholipids (Common Membrane Lipids):
- Lipid: Type # 6. Sphingolipids:
- Lipid: Type # 7. Lipoproteins:
- Lipid: Type # 8. Terpenes:
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- Beef Fat. Beef fat, also known as beef tallow, is almost entirely made of saturated fats. ...
- Poultry Skin. Chicken and turkey are generally quite healthy. ...
- Heavy Cream. When fresh milk is processed, a lot of the fat is removed and combined into heavy cream. ...
- Butter. ...
- Soft Cheese. ...
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Lipids provide energy, protection and insulation for the organs in the body. Lipids are also an important part of cell membranes.
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Lipids are an essential component of the cell membrane. The structure is typically made of a glycerol backbone, 2 fatty acid tails (hydrophobic), and a phosphate group (hydrophilic). As such, phospholipids are amphipathic.Which of the following is not a function of lipids? ›
(d) Storing genetic information is not a function of lipids but rather nucleic acids.
The building blocks of carbohydrates are Monosaccharides.
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- meat and fish.
- dairy products.
- seeds and nuts.
- legumes like beans and lentils.
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Monosaccharides. Monosaccharides include glucose, galactose and fructose - all commonly found in food. Monosaccharides are single sugar molecules that are the building blocks for all other sugars and carbohydrates.Which of the following is the major function of lipids? ›
Most of the energy required by the human body is provided by carbohydrates and lipids. As discussed in the Carbohydrates chapter, glucose is stored in the body as glycogen. While glycogen provides a ready source of energy, lipids primarily function as an energy reserve.
Fatty acids are important building blocks of lipids and they give a diversity and chemical specificity to the complex lipids found in natural fats and oils, comparable to that given by the amino acids to proteins.What is lipid structure? ›
Lipids may be broadly defined as hydrophobic or amphiphilic small molecules; the amphiphilic nature of some lipids allows them to form structures such as vesicles, multilamellar/unilamellar liposomes, or membranes in an aqueous environment.