Carbon – why is the building block of life?

March 25, 2023

Carbon is often referred to as the building block of life. Have you ever wondered why carbon is the element that became the backbone of all life as we know it? If you have, let’s dig into a little chemistry to find out why. To begin with, it is the fourth most abundant element in the universe and the basis of all organic molecules. But it is carbon’s unique electron structure and bonding abilities that make it the ideal element for the formation of the complex molecules required for life.

For example, to make you, billions upon billions of molecules had to come together to make the six-foot-tall you. For these bonds to come together and, more importantly, stay together, they need a special kind of attraction to each other. The ability to attract other molecules is called covalence. To put it simply, carbon has a unique structure that enables it to bond with a wide range of elements. It can form long chains, branched chains, and rings, allowing it to create a diverse range of chemical structures. You may know these structures as hands, feet, eyes, or even your DNA.

One of the most important properties of carbon is its ability to form bonds with other atoms. This makes it the backbone of many biological molecules, such as carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids. Yes, what you and I call food. Carbon’s stable bonds with other atoms make sure that these molecules stay together and work, giving life the structure and function it needs. Carbon’s electron configuration also makes it an ideal element for energy storage. Carbon atoms can form stable bonds with hydrogen atoms, creating hydrocarbons. These hydrocarbons can be oxidised to release energy, making them an ideal source of fuel for living organisms.

Another key property of carbon is its ability to form multiple bonds with other atoms. This allows it to create double and triple bonds with other carbon atoms, nitrogen, and oxygen, among others. These multiple bonds give molecules the flexibility they need to interact with each other. This makes it possible for a wide range of chemical reactions to happen and for complex biological structures to form. You and I and all living species on earth

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