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monosaccharide—OH + HO—monosaccharide monosaccharide—O—monosaccharide disaccharide

Common disaccharides are the grain sugar maltose , made of two glucose molecules; the milk sugar lactose , made of a galactose and a glucose molecule; and the table sugar sucrose , made of a glucose and a fructose molecule ( [link] ).

Maltose is made of 2 glucose molecules linked with O from Carbon 4 of one glucose to carbon 1 of the other. Lactose is made of a glucose linked to a galactose. Carbon 4 of glucose is linked to carbon 1 of galactose. Sucrose is made of a glucose and a fructose. Carbon 1 of glucose is bound to carbon 2 of fructose.
Common disaccharides include maltose, lactose, and sucrose.


Polysaccharides, also called glycans , are large polymers composed of hundreds of monosaccharide monomers. Unlike mono- and disaccharides, polysaccharides are not sweet and, in general, they are not soluble in water. Like disaccharides, the monomeric units of polysaccharides are linked together by glycosidic bond s.

Polysaccharides are very diverse in their structure. Three of the most biologically important polysaccharides— starch , glycogen , and cellulose —are all composed of repetitive glucose units, although they differ in their structure ( [link] ). Cellulose consists of a linear chain of glucose molecules and is a common structural component of cell walls in plants and other organisms. Glycogen and starch are branched polymers; glycogen is the primary energy-storage molecule in animals and bacteria, whereas plants primarily store energy in starch. The orientation of the glycosidic linkage s in these three polymers is different as well and, as a consequence, linear and branched macromolecules have different properties.

Modified glucose molecules can be fundamental components of other structural polysaccharide s. Examples of these types of structural polysaccharides are N-acetyl glucosamine (NAG) and N-acetyl muramic acid (NAM) found in bacterial cell wall peptidoglycan. Polymers of NAG form chitin , which is found in fungal cell walls and in the exoskeleton of insects.

Amylose is a chain of hexagons. Starch is a branching chain of hexagons. Glycogen is a highly branching chain of hexagons. Cellulose (fiber) is many rows of hexagons attached into a flat square. Micrographs of starch look like water bubbles, glycogen look like ovals, and cellulose look like long strands.
Starch, glycogen, and cellulose are three of the most important polysaccharides. In the top row, hexagons represent individual glucose molecules. Micrographs (bottom row) show wheat starch granules stained with iodine (left), glycogen granules (G) inside the cell of a cyanobacterium (middle), and bacterial cellulose fibers (right). (credit “iodine granules”: modification of work by Kiselov Yuri; credit “glycogen granules”: modification of work by Stöckel J, Elvitigala TR, Liberton M, Pakrasi HB; credit “cellulose”: modification of work by American Society for Microbiology)
  • What are the most biologically important polysaccharides and why are they important?

Key concepts and summary

  • Carbohydrates , the most abundant biomolecules on earth, are widely used by organisms for structural and energy-storage purposes.
  • Carbohydrates include individual sugar molecules ( monosaccharides ) as well as two or more molecules chemically linked by glycosidic bonds . Monosaccharides are classified based on the number of carbons the molecule as trioses (3 C), tetroses (4 C), pentoses (5 C), and hexoses (6 C). They are the building blocks for the synthesis of polymers or complex carbohydrates.
  • Disaccharides such as sucrose, lactose, and maltose are molecules composed of two monosaccharides linked together by a glycosidic bond.
  • Polysaccharides , or glycans , are polymers composed of hundreds of monosaccharide monomers linked together by glycosidic bonds. The energy-storage polymers starch and glycogen are examples of polysaccharides and are all composed of branched chains of glucose molecules.
  • The polysaccharide cellulose is a common structural component of the cell walls of organisms. Other structural polysaccharides, such as N-acetyl glucosamine (NAG) and N-acetyl muramic acid (NAM), incorporate modified glucose molecules and are used in the construction of peptidoglycan or chitin.


Match each polysaccharide with its description.

___chitin A. energy storage polymer in plants
___glycogen B. structural polymer found in plants
___starch C. structural polymer found in cell walls of fungi and exoskeletons of some animals
___cellulose D. energy storage polymer found in animal cells and bacteria

C, D, A, B

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Short answer

What are monosaccharides, disaccharides, and polysaccharides?

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Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, Microbiology. OpenStax CNX. Nov 01, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col12087/1.4
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