The structure and dynamics of biomolecules is one of the most exciting and important fields of study in modern science. Simply defined, a biomolecule is any molecule produced by a living organism. Biomolecules themselves are not living things, and many are also produced by non-biological processes. But these molecules are essential to the functioning of living organisms, and therefore the study and understanding of what they are made of and how they interact with other molecule is vital to modern science.
Amino acids are one type of biomolecule. They are the building blocks of proteins, and thus essential to life. Amino acids consist of an amine group (a nitrogen atom and a pair of valence electrons, also known as a lone pair), a carboxylic acid group, and a side chain which determines the properties of particular amino acids. Amino acids link together by making chemical bonds to form long chains. These chains are called proteins, and they are essential to virtually every biological process.
Nucleosides are another type of biomolecule. They consist of a nitrogen-based molecule called a nucleobase attaching itself to a ribose, or simple sugar, molecule. There are five primary nucleobases: adenine, cytosine, guanine, thymine and uracil. They are often expressed as their first letters, and in pairs. If this sounds familiar to you, it should; these five molecules are the bases of RNA and DNA. They are the building blocks of the genetic code, letters in an alphabet that can spell out every organism known to exist.
Monosaccharides are biomolecules with only one sugar. They are the simplest form of carbohydrate. Two monosaccharides bonded together form a disaccharide. More than two monosaccharides in a chain form a polysaccharide. These molecules are often large and complicated. Some examples of polysaccharides are starch and glycogen, which are used by the body to store energy, and cellulose and chitin, which are used structurally by plants and insects, respectively.
Vitamins are another type of biomolecule. By definition, vitamins are essential compounds not generally produced by a given organism, which must then be absorbed through ingestion. Vitamins are utilized for a wide variety of chemical reactions necessary to life. Vitamins necessary to humans are identified by letters, such as vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin D.
Study of the structure and dynamics of biomolecules is the domain of the exciting field of structural molecular biology. Scientists working in this field attempt to describe biomolecules at the atomic level, and to better understand their many functions within living cells. This is still a relatively new field. The famed double-helix structure of the DNA molecule was only discovered in 1953. Methods of detecting and studying the atomic structures of biomolecules, such as X-ray crystallography, electron microscopy, and nuclear magnetic resonance are all recent innovations (electron microscopy and NMR being much more recent, with X-ray crystallography originating in 1959). These instruments have even helped to give birth to an entirely new field: genomics, or the study of genomes. Studying the structure and dynamics of biomolecules is one of the most thrilling ways science in the 21st century is working to answer age-old questions about life’s deepest inner workings, and to reveal yet another chapter in the story of who we are.