The Chemistry of Life (Day 137)

The chemistry of life

Today’s Diary Entry is sponsored by Find Pet Boarding

So today I’ve been supposed to be revising milk hygiene and anatomy, however I got distracted by the new textbook I recieved at the weekend on medicinal chemistry. Now chemistry is something that I’ve had very little formal education in, and so have had to great pleasure of trying to teach myself. Today I am going to explain why chemistry is crucial to vet students, and to life itself.

The chemistry of life

In Biology we look at the cell, the smallest building block of the living body, yet this also has other structures inside which have other funtions. However this cell is composed of loads of different chemicals with varying structures that are made up of elements being connected in different ways. An element is where the chemical is in its pure form, and cannot be broken down any further without losing its structure and form. The easiest way to picture this is to think of the cell like a house, made from many different things with many different functions.

There are only 90 naturally occuring elements which doesn’t seem like a lot when thinking about how complex life is, however only a handful are actually vital to living things. Just 11 elements are vital to all living things…

  • Hydrogen – H
  • Nitrogen – N
  • Calcium – Ca
  • Sulfur – S
  • Oxygen – O
  • Sodium – Na
  • Magnesium – Mg
  • Chlorine – Cl
  • Carbon – C
  • Potassium – K
  • Phosphorus – P

Ok so just a handful, in addition to this another 10 are required for some living organisms and a further 8 elements are vital to some organisms and plants. As elements are so small it sometimes is difficult to imagine how they all link together, and in some cases it is extremely complex. Now vets need an understanding here because when it comes to medications, they are basically chemicals that are designed to act upon or modify the chemicals make up the body.

For example within the body the majority of cells have some kind of cell wall, this is so thin that it is rarely visible under the microscope, however it is composed of many different elements. The chemical structures that make up the cell wall are phosphoglycerides which have a hydrophobic (water hating) tail and a polar head group. These are usually arranged in two layers facing out from each other so the hydrophobic tails from each layer point towards each other (which forms a lipid layer).The polar heads of this have specific structures which are unique to certain cells which allow medicines to be developed to attach at these certain points (and so only affect certain things) through different chemical bonds.

Talking bonds there are different ways that chemicals can bind to each other, and each different method has differences in strength and the functionality. I am still only learning the basics here, however in September I do start studying Pharmacology so am hoping that by doing a bit of extra reading now I will be more comfortable studying in the so called “hell year” of Vet School!

For anyone interested in chemistry and how it relates to biology I would recommend two books which I keep handy on my shelf…

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