What do you see when you look at this picture? Is it just a mass of tangled ribbons? Look closely. It’s actually a complex pattern of three-dimensional shapes. It represents the structure of a common chemical found inside living cells. The chemical is a protein called hemoglobin. It is the protein in red blood cells which transports oxygen around the body.
What are proteins? What other chemicals are found in living things? You will learn the answers to these questions as you read about the chemistry of life.
The cell is the basic unit of life. A cell is made of molecules, which are made of elements. All life-which means all bacteria and archaea, all protists, fungi, plants and animals-is built around the element carbon, and four categories of organic compounds: carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids. These molecules come together to form a cell, which is the basis of life. One particular type of protein, enzymes, are biological catalysts, allowing biochemical reactions to proceed at the rate necessary to maintain life. One other molecule, water, is also essential to life, though water is not an organic compound.