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Life on Earth is based on the chemistry of carbon. Multiple scientific studies have shown throughout history the importance of carbon for life on our planet, since each and every one of the organisms that inhabit it needs this bioelement to exist and survive. The functions performed by carbon are truly surprising: from the stability of biochemical molecules guaranteed by the structure of the carbon atoms that constitute them, to the use of carbon as a raw material in industries, means of transport and as a source of energy.

If you want to know in detail what is the importance of carbon in living beings Continue reading this Green Ecologist article and you will be surprised by the infinite functions that carbon fulfills within the functioning of our planet.

What is carbon

The carbon atom (C), is the atom most important of biological molecules. The diversity and stability of carbon-containing compounds is due to the specific properties of the carbon atom and, especially, to the nature of the interactions of carbon atoms with each other, as well as with a limited number of elements found in molecules with biological importance.

The branch of science devoted primarily to the study of carbon and its biological properties is organic chemistry (within which biochemistry is included), which combines the complex world of the structure of atoms and molecules, together with the diverse and essential biological processes that take place in cells, organisms and ecosystems.

In the next sections we will see in more detail what is the role that carbon plays in these three levels of organization, from the simplest on a cellular scale, to the most complex and diverse, ecosystems.

What is the importance of carbon in living things - summary

Carbon is used as a substrate for multiple physicochemical reactions, as well as within complex biological processes and it is also the raw material for an endless number of products that human beings consume and produce on a daily basis. To better understand what is the importance of carbon in living beings, in the following list we present the main functions that it performs as an essential part of living beings and their environment:

  • Chemical composition, structure and metabolism in cells.
  • Photosynthesis, respiration and carbon transfer between living beings.
  • Carbon fluxes in the atmosphere, soil and oceans from ecosystems.

The importance of carbon in cells

Cell chemistry is directly related to the biological properties and benefits of the carbon atoms that make them up. This fact is mainly due to the great stability provided by carbon atoms within the structure and functioning of the cell, since the strong covalent bonds that are established between carbon atoms, gives the molecular structures of cells the ability to form highly stable linear and branched chains.

In addition to its structural function, carbon is used by cells as an energy source metabolic and potent chemical reactivity, which are vital for cell growth and interaction with the environment.

Importance of carbon in living beings

The different groups of living beings that exist on the planet make use of carbon to cover one or more of their vital functions. These are the key points of the importance of carbon in living beings:

  • Perhaps the most important vital function in which carbon intervenes in living beings is food, for which animals, plants and other organisms absorb and process carbon-containing nutrients such as, for example, carbohydrates, methane, bicarbonate and carbon dioxide, the latter being the basis of the autotrophic feeding that photosynthetic organisms follow.
  • In addition, living beings need a certain minimum amount of carbon to carry out their metabolism in a balanced way, which is based on the use of organic compounds derived from carbon such as power source. In this way, living organisms obtain the energy they need to survive through respiration and the transfer of carbon between living beings, observable, for example, in food chains.
  • Refering to importance of carbon in the human body, this is determined by the need to incorporate this precious bioelement in our body, since it is a natural part of it. Along with oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen, carbon is one of the fundamental structural components of our cells, organs and tissues (animal tissues).

Importance of carbon in ecosystems

The importance of carbon in nature, is another of the main axes of carbon as the basis for life. In each and every one of the different ecosystems on the planet, the carbon fluxes must be constant and balanced, thus allowing the soil-water-atmosphere exchange (as you can see in the diagram of the carbon cycle in the first section).

Thus, through the complex carbon cycle, this important bioelement becomes part of the planet's soils, oceans and atmosphere, living beings being the intermediaries of the flow and conversion of carbon. In each ecosystem, living beings are responsible for consuming and producing organic compounds made up of carbon atoms, to keep both the ecosystem to which they belong and the planet as a whole in balance. Here you can learn more about what is an ecosystem in equilibrium and how it is maintained.

If you want to read more articles similar to What is the importance of carbon in living beingsWe recommend that you enter our Nature Curiosities category.

  • Becker, W., Kleinsmith, L. & Hardin, J. (2006) The world of the cell. ANDEditorial Pearson, 6th edition, pp: 19-44.
  • United Nations Environment Program (). GEO: Global Environment Outlook, environment for development. Volume 4, pp: 81-361.
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