Functional Groups

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Table shows the structure and properties of different functional groups. Hydroxyl groups, which consist of upper case O upper case H attached to a carbon chain, are polar. Methyl groups, which consist of three hydrogens attached to a carbon chain, are nonpolar. Carbonyl groups, which consist of an oxygen double bonded to a carbon in the middle of a hydrocarbon chain, are polar. Carboxyl groups, which consist of a carbon with a double bonded oxygen and an upper O upper H group attached to a carbon chain, are able to ionize, releasing H positive ions into solution. Carboxyl groups are considered acidic. Amino groups, which consist of two hydrogens attached to a nitrogen, are able to accept H positive ions from solution, forming H subscript 3 baseline positive. Amino groups are considered basic. Phosphate groups consist of a phosphorous with one double bonded oxygen and two upper O upper H groups. Another oxygen forms a link from the phosphorous to a carbon chain. Both upper O upper H groups in phosphorous can lose an H positive ion, and phosphate groups are considered acidic.
These functional groups are in many different biological molecules. R, also known as R-group, is an abbreviation for any group in which a carbon or hydrogen atom is attached to the rest of the molecule. Source: OpenStax Biology 2e

OpenStax Biology 2e

Functional groups are groups of atoms that occur within molecules and confer specific chemical properties to those molecules. We find them along the “carbon backbone” of macromolecules. Chains and/or rings of carbon atoms with the occasional substitution of an element such as nitrogen or oxygen form this carbon backbone. Molecules with other elements in their carbon backbone are substituted hydrocarbons.

The functional groups in a macromolecule are usually attached to the carbon backbone at one or several different places along its chain and/or ring structure. Each of the four types of macromolecules—proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, and nucleic acids—has its own characteristic set of functional groups that contributes greatly to its differing chemical properties and its function in living organisms.

– What is a chemical bond that involves the sharing of electron pairs between atoms?

Functional groups binding to a central atom in a coordination complex are called ligands.

A functional group can participate in specific chemical reactions. The table above shows some of the important functional groups in biological molecules. They include: hydroxyl, methyl, carbonyl, carboxyl, amino, phosphate, and sulfhydryl. These groups play an important role in forming molecules like DNA, proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids. We usually classify functional groups as hydrophobic or hydrophilic depending on their charge or polarity characteristics. An example of a hydrophobic group is the non-polar methyl molecule. Among the hydrophilic functional groups is the carboxyl group in amino acids, some amino acid side chains, and the fatty acids that form triglycerides and phospholipids. This carboxyl group ionizes to release hydrogen ions (H+) from the COOH group resulting in the negatively charged COO group. This contributes to the hydrophilic nature of whatever molecule on which it is found. Other functional groups, such as the carbonyl group, have a partially negatively charged oxygen atom that may form hydrogen bonds with water molecules, again making the molecule more hydrophilic.

Hydrogen bonds between functional groups (within the same molecule or between different molecules) are important to the function of many macromolecules and help them to fold properly into and maintain the appropriate shape for functioning. Hydrogen bonds are also involved in various recognition processes, such as DNA complementary base pairing and the binding of an enzyme to its substrate.

– What is a partial inter-molecular bonding interaction between a lone pair on an electron rich donor atom, particularly the second-row elements nitrogen, oxygen, or fluorine, and the anti-bonding molecular orbital of a bond between hydrogen and a more electronegative atom or group?

Liquid water’s high boiling point is due to the high number of hydrogen bonds each molecule can form, relative to its low molecular mass.

Molecular models show hydrogen bonding between thymine and adenine, and between cytosine and guanine. These four DNA bases are organic molecules containing carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and hydrogen in complex ring structures. Hydrogen bonds between the bases hold them together.
Hydrogen bonds connect two strands of DNA together to create the double-helix structure.

Source: OpenStax Biology 2e


Clark, M., Douglas, M., Choi, J. Biology 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: