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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Describe the four major types of lipids
  • Explain the role of fats in storing energy
  • Differentiate between saturated and unsaturated fatty acids
  • Describe phospholipids and their role in cells
  • Define the basic structure of a steroid and some functions of steroids
  • Explain the how cholesterol helps to maintain the fluid nature of the plasma membrane

Lipids include a diverse group of compounds that are largely nonpolar in nature. This is because they are hydrocarbons that include mostly nonpolar carbon–carbon or carbon–hydrogen bonds. Non-polar molecules are hydrophobic (“water fearing”), or insoluble in water. Lipids perform many different functions in a cell. Cells store energy for long-term use in the form of fats. Lipids also provide insulation from the environment for plants and animals ( [link] ). For example, they help keep aquatic birds and mammals dry when forming a protective layer over fur or feathers because of their water-repellant hydrophobic nature. Lipids are also the building blocks of many hormones and are an important constituent of all cellular membranes. Lipids include fats, oils, waxes, phospholipids, and steroids.

Photo shows a river otter swimming.
Hydrophobic lipids in the fur of aquatic mammals, such as this river otter, protect them from the elements. (credit: Ken Bosma)

Fats and oils

A fat molecule consists of two main components—glycerol and fatty acids. Glycerol is an organic compound (alcohol) with three carbons, five hydrogens, and three hydroxyl (OH) groups. Fatty acids have a long chain of hydrocarbons to which a carboxyl group is attached, hence the name “fatty acid.” The number of carbons in the fatty acid may range from 4 to 36; most common are those containing 12–18 carbons. In a fat molecule, the fatty acids are attached to each of the three carbons of the glycerol molecule with an ester bond through an oxygen atom ( [link] ).

The structures of glycerol, a fatty acid, and a triacylglycerol are shown. Glycerol is a chain of three carbons, with a hydroxyl (OH) group attached to each carbon. A fatty acid has an acetyl (COOH) group attached to a long carbon chain. In triacylglycerol, a fatty acid is attached to each of glycerol’s three hydroxyl groups via the carboxyl group. A water molecule is lost in the reaction so the structure of the linkage is C-O-C, with an oxygen double bonded to the second carbon.
Triacylglycerol is formed by the joining of three fatty acids to a glycerol backbone in a dehydration reaction. Three molecules of water are released in the process.

During this ester bond formation, three water molecules are released. The three fatty acids in the triacylglycerol may be similar or dissimilar. Fats are also called triacylglycerols or triglycerides because of their chemical structure. Some fatty acids have common names that specify their origin. For example, palmitic acid, a saturated fatty acid    , is derived from the palm tree. Arachidic acid is derived from Arachis hypogea, the scientific name for groundnuts or peanuts.

Fatty acids may be saturated or unsaturated. In a fatty acid chain, if there are only single bonds between neighboring carbons in the hydrocarbon chain, the fatty acid is said to be saturated. Saturated fatty acids are saturated with hydrogen; in other words, the number of hydrogen atoms attached to the carbon skeleton is maximized. Stearic acid is an example of a saturated fatty acid ( [link] )

The structure of stearic acid is shown. This fatty acid has a hydrocarbon chain seventeen residues long attached to an acetyl group. All bonds between the carbons are single bonds.
Stearic acid is a common saturated fatty acid.

When the hydrocarbon chain contains a double bond, the fatty acid is said to be unsaturated . Oleic acid is an example of an unsaturated fatty acid ( [link] ).

Questions & Answers

what is photosynthesis
Victor Reply
The process plants use to convert sunlight into food (energy).
juanita
Some other organisms use
juanita
types of photosynthesis
Victor
what is used to determine phylogeny?
Israel Reply
which condition is the basis for a species to be reproductively isolated from other members?
Israel Reply
Why do scientists consider vestigial structures evidence for evolution?
Israel
8.Which statement about analogies is correct?
Israel
What is true about organisms that are a part of the same clade?
Israel
Why is it so important for scientists to distinguish between homologous and analogous characteristics before building phylogenetic trees?
Israel
(CH2O)n is the stoichiometric formula of
Marcellus Reply
what are nucleotide
Anastijjaninaiya Reply
Methane,ammonia,water and sugar are dissolved to form nuceotide
Me
Introduction To Biology
Tanveer Reply
can ringworm be caused by bacterium
fred Reply
Nope
ejikeme
Branches of biology
Tanveer
no it does not occurs by bacterium
gopal
what is a brick?
Istifanus Reply
what is gene in biology?
yousaf Reply
it is a heredity unit
Me
what is DNA
yousaf Reply
carrier of genetic information
missy
deoxyribonucleic acid
gopal
it contains genetic information and brings it to one generation to other
gopal
it is of two Types circular DNA and linear DNA
gopal
plasmids are the type of small circular DNA which lies outside the genomic DNA
gopal
And what makes a virus to be difficult to destroy
Mosongo
what observation is made when dry seeds and soaked seeds are put in a vacuum flask
Robin Reply
there is respiration from the soak seeds which shows on the walls of the vacuum flask
Israel
what's mammals ?
Istifanus Reply
mammals are vertebrates ,any member group of vertebrates animals in which the young are nourished with milk from special mammary glands of the mother.
yousaf
what are actin and myosin
Praveen Reply
they are muscle filaments
Israel
they make up the microfibrils of the muscle ,relaxing and contracting to cause movement
Israel
Please did anybody know the questions that will come out in the coming practical?
Oladimeji
Why it is importantthat there are different types of protein in plasma membraine for the transport materials into and out of a cell?
Louellie Reply
the nerve cell
Mustapha Reply

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Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
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