BioCoach Activity

Concept 4: Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates, which include the sugars and polysaccharides, have many important functions in biological systems.

Carbohydrates are so named because the structural formula is typically (CH2O)n, where n is an integer such as 5 (C5H10O5), 6 (C6H12O6), etc. Although this formula might suggest that carbon atoms are joined to water, the actual molecules are more complicated.

Generic sugars: mono, di, and polysaccharides.

Like most classes of biological molecules, carbohydrates occur as both monomers and polymers. Small carbohydrates are called sugars, which commonly include monosaccharides (single sugars) and some disaccharides (two sugars linked together). Larger carbohydrates are called polysaccharides (many sugars linked together).

Functions of carbohydrates include:

  • serving as precursors for building many polymers
  • storing short-term energy
  • providing structural building materials
  • serving as molecular "tags" to allow recognition of specific cells and molecules