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Everything we can see, touch, taste, or experience in any way consists of matter. Matter is atoms, and they consist of the subatomic particles, protons, neutrons, and electrons. Biological compounds are matter, just like everything else, but living systems tend to be made of the lighter elements, with C, N, O, H, P, and S being the majority. These elements are part of cell structures, and many of these structures are formed by making polymers. These polymers consist of just a few basic types of molecules: amino acids, sugars, nucleic acids, and fatty acids. Sugars are used in structures in the cell, and sometimes decorate proteins and lipids. Nucleic acids are more complex polymers having a backbone made of sugar and phosphorus, with the base giving the nucleic acid its identity. Proteins are polymers of 20 assorted amino acids, and they are the biological catalysts of the cell. The sequence of the polymers dictates their structure and subsequently their function, especially for proteins. Finally, lipids are made from glycerol, a polar head group, and two long-chain fatty acids. The amphipathic nature of lipids encourages them to assemble into a lipid bilayer and forms the foundation of the cell. In subsequent chapters, we will discuss how this chemistry comes together to form the diversity of living organisms we call microbes.
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