Carbohydrates and Lipids

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Carbohydrates are a class of organic molecules that includes monosaccharides, disaccharides, and polysaccharides. All of these molecules are based on a characteristic ratio of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms. Lipids constitute a category of diverse organic molecules that share the physical property of being nonpolar, and thus insoluble in water which the key functional group is oriented with respect to the molecules, stereoisomers are called either D-isomers (for dextro, or right-handed) or L-isomers (for levo, or left-handed). Their relationship is similar to that of a right and left glove—if the palms are both pointing in the same direction, the two cannot be superimposed.

These subtle differences in structure are extremely important biologically. They ensure that enzymes—which interact with such molecules in a stereo-specific way in chemical reactions— cannot combine with the "wrong" stereoisomer. The enzymes of all cells (human and others) can combine only with L-amino acids and D-sugars, for example. The opposite stereoisomers (D-amino acids and L-sugars) cannot be used by any enzyme in metabolism.

Carbohydrates and lipids are similar in many ways. Both groups of molecules consist primarily of the atoms carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, and both serve as major sources of energy in the body (accounting for most of the calories consumed in food). Carbohydrates and lipids differ, however, in some important aspects of their chemical structures and physical properties. Such differences significantly affect the functions of these molecules in the body.

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