In its most archetypical definition, compounds having carbon atom as their central element or backbone in association with various other non-metal elements are known as organic compounds.
The carbon atoms are linked with other atoms through covalent bonds and most common elements forming associations with carbon backbone include hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen.
There are few exceptions of carbon-containing compounds which are not classified in the category of organic compounds. These examples of these include cyanides (compounds containing C≡N group), carbides (compounds composed of carbon and metal mixtures) and carbonates (compounds characterized by the presence of carbonate ions CO32-).
As organic compounds are present in various environments, from living beings to our non-living surroundings, their importance is unmatchable thus making it difficult to comprehensively describe their importance. Anyhow, let us take a look at the major important roles of organic compounds in different circumstances.
Essential to Functioning of Living Beings
Organic compounds constitute not only the building blocks of living organisms but also various metabolic processes ranging from keeping us alive to the maintenance of or life in general, involve an essential and active participation of organic compounds.
Of these, four major types are found in living systems: carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids. Let us dive a little deeper into their individual importance.
Carbohydrates are the instant and major source of energy for almost all of the living organisms. These molecules are primarily made up of atoms of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen with the ratio or hydrogen to oxygen being the same as present in water molecules i.e., 2:1.
Besides energy sources, some carbohydrates are also involved in providing structural integrity.
The simplest of the carbohydrates are known as monosaccharides as they consist of a single molecule of carbohydrates. An example is glucose which is the main energy source and fuel for all organisms.
While unicellular organisms directly utilize glucose, in multicellular organisms it is present in dissolved form in the body fluids from where cells can take it up and use it.
Disaccharides and polysaccharides are carbohydrates containing two or more than two carbohydrate molecules in them, respectively. The important disaccharides found in living beings are sucrose and lactose. Sucrose is the table sugar and lactose is the major sugar component of milk and dairy products.
Among the polysaccharides, the most important is starch formed by linking thousands of glucose molecules together. It is the major form in which carbohydrates are stored in the body so as to be used as energy later on when required.
They are organic molecules also composed of carbon hydrogen and oxygen similar to carbohydrates except that the content of hydrogen and oxygen in lipids is much higher than the carbohydrates.
They also serve as energy reservoirs in living organisms and typical examples include fats, oils, waxes, and steroids.
Fats are stored in the form of small droplets in special cells called adipose cells in animals and serve as energy stores as mentioned earlier. Upon need, these fat molecules are broken down to release the energy needed for the cell.
Their breakdown provides much more energy than the metabolism of an equal amount of carbohydrates. In plants, they are present in the seeds mostly where also they are utilized as energy sources for the germination of seeds.
Apart from being a source, lipids are also major structural components of the cell membranes of all organisms, be them unicellular or multicellular. Furthermore, as essential structural components of the cell membranes, lipid molecules are also involved in various cellular signaling processes.
Steroid hormones play important role in the maintenance of the homeostasis of the body. They also belong to a class of lipid molecules.
Besides homeostasis, other important functions associated with lipid hormones include the regulation of various importance cellular processes such as cell death, immune system regulation, development and functioning of reproductive systems, and stress responses.
Proteins are the most complex amongst the various types of organic molecules. The individual building blocks of proteins are known as amino acids of which there are 20 types most common in the living beings. These amino acids contain carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen atoms as their core components.
Just like lipids, the most important function of proteins is in the formation of cell membranes as essential structural and building blocks of them. As parts of the cell membrane, they are also involved in various signaling processes of the cell.
The existence of all living beings depends on proteins. Besides being structural parts of the membranes, proteins are also suspended in the cytoplasm of the cells thereby performing their respective vital roles ranging from cell growth, survival to cell death. Also, proteins serve as strengthening and supporting materials in the tissues, e.g., bones, muscles, cartilage, and tendons all are composed of proteins.
Another important form of proteins are enzymes which function to catalyze specific chemical reactions taking place inside the cells. Just like the chemical catalysts, enzymes are reused after completing a reaction and thus function to speed the process of chemical reactions up.
Moreover, proteins also serve as energy sources for the body. After carbohydrates are utilized, the metabolism of the body shifts towards proteins’ utilization, and lastly, lipid metabolism starts. Proteins typically provide more energy than carbohydrates by less than lipids.
Nucleic acids are complex organic molecules composed of a carbohydrate ring, a nitrogen containing molecule (nitrogenous base) and a phosphate group. Like proteins, nucleic acids are also complex and large molecules.
There are two basic types of nucleic acids present in the living systems – DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and RNA (ribonucleic acids). The importance of the nucleic acids lies in the very fact that they constitute the genetic material of living organisms and without them, life cannot be imagined.
The field of agriculture is actively revolving around organic compounds and their uses. This includes the concerns in the field for the maintenance of the balance of organic compounds and using them to solve agricultural problems.
A traditional example entails the use of organic compounds for replenishing the soil nutrients which are often lost due to successive crop productions. Another use of organic compounds is in the use of synthetically prepared organic analogues of pesticides.
This is done so as not to impose as much damage to the soil as is done by using chemical pesticides. Similarly, various herbicides and fungicides’ organic analogues have similar potential applications and advantages.
Additionally, there are two types of fertilizers used in the agriculture industry for soil nutrient maintenance. Amongst them, organic fertilizers give an edge over others in that they are more environmental friendly posing minimum pollution risks not only for the soil but also for the plants as well.
The examples of organic fertilizers include urea, manure and compost derive mainly from animal matter.
Importance in Pharmaceutical Industry
There are various drugs which are either themselves organic molecules or derivatives of them. As such, they hold great importance in the field of pharmaceutical industry and sciences as they are extensively used for medicinal purposes.
Organic compounds also hold the prime industry in the fuel industry. For example, methane is a black color compound not only used as a fuel but also for making various types of inks and as a starting material for other compounds (methyl alcohol, formaldehyde, and chloroform, etc.). Similarly, butane is another organic molecule whose liquid form is used as LPG fuel.
Importance in Everyday Life
Things made from the use of organic molecules utilizing the applications and principles of organic chemistry are all around us in our daily lives. for example, nylon, PVC, and polyethylene are important polymers made out of organic compounds. Also, soaps, detergents, and sanitizers are some other examples of daily use organic compounds used for cleaning and disinfection purposes.