Because most naturally occurring carbon-containing molecules are found in living organisms, the study of these compounds became known as organic chemistry. (Inorganic chemistry is the study of noncarbon-containing molecules.) However, the chemistry of living organisms, biochemistry, now forms only a portion of the broad field of organic chemistry.
One of the properties of the carbon atom that makes life possible is its ability to form four covalent bonds with other atoms, in particular with other carbon atoms. Since carbon atoms can also combine with hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and sulfur atoms, a vast number of compounds can be formed with relatively few chemical elements. Some of these molecules are extremely large (macromolecules), being composed of thousands of atoms. Such large molecules are formed by linking together hundreds of smaller molecules (subunits) and are thus known as polymers (many small parts). The structure of macromolecules depends upon the structure of the subunits, the number of sub-units linked together, and the position along the chain of each type of subunit.
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