So Sugar. Much Chemistry.

A long, long time ago a fool said that “we are what we eat”, if it was true then why are we not just a huge mass of sugar chains and proteins soaked in water? Would it not be exciting to see other blobs walking down the street? If you have not thought about it, yes … it would be gross.

Most of the food that we eat is made up of one of the most important “bricks of life”; that is, carbohydrates (or sugars, or saccharoids).  To close friends they reveal their real nature: they are just a bunch of molecules consisting of C(arbon), H(ydrogen) and O(xygen) in the ratio of 1:2:1 connected together thanks to the love they share for each other (i.e. chemical bonds). If you really want to be one of their coolest friends you will need to call them by their “nickname”, that is (CH2O)n (with “n” indicating the number of C’s present in the molecule). This “n”, as you may have already thought, is variable (e.g. from a minimum of n=3, to n=6 and more) and deeply affects how the molecule is going to be used by our organism as well as its structure.


What are the differences that you can spot between the molecules I have just shown you? First of all you can notice that every structure has a different amount of atoms of Carbon. Secondly, you can definitely see that the three-carbon molecule is “linear” (visualise it as a stick with a few others that branch off of it, it is known that you cannot use it to practice with a Braavosi, but it will be still useful to beat Joffrey up). Why is that? Usually, carbohydrates can exist in the form of straight chains (e.g. the glyceraldehyde), but when added to an aqueous solution they curl up in the form of a ring. This happens because carbohydrates can be really scared of water, causing a reaction called “nucleophilic addition” (which I will explain only if you would like to know more about it!).

(c) The Geeky Burrow

(c) The Geeky Burrow

Something to know about biological molecules is that the structure matters, a lot. In fact, even just the slight structural difference can cause a change in how we see the compound. With the formula (CH2O)6 or C6H12O6 we indicate the type of sugar that we normally use during baking (in the concentrated form), also known as glucose, but there are two other carbohydrates with the exact same formula. These two are called “isomers”, which are molecules with same empirical formula but differences in the structure (an example? Lannisters: they have the same surname, but some of them are smaller, one likes to play with cats instead of … well, people and so on). The first one of these two molecules is called “fructose” and differs from the glucose for the position of the carbonyl carbon (the C=O), and falls in the group of “structural isomers” (differences in the carbon skeleton, which is the “central stick”). On the other hand we have “galactose”, whose hydroxyl group (-OH, also known as the “surprise group”) and hydrogen have a different arrangement in the structure (falling in the group of “stereoisomers”, where the modifications happen in the orientation of the functional groups – and I will talk about these in another article). The question is: why should I care about this? BECAUSE YOUR ORGANISM HAS SUPER POWERS. Our taste buds and enzymes have the ability to spot the differences between these molecules: for example, fructose is sweeter than glucose. Moreover, our organism can use a molecule of glucose and one of fructose to create what we call a disaccharide, which is two monosaccharides linked together by a reaction.

But what is a monosaccharide? What about disaccharides and … wait, I heard of polysaccharides too! WHAT ARE THESE? Why carbohydrates are so important to us? WWHHHYYY?

I will answer to all these questions in the next article so … stay tuned!
May the science be ever in your favour!

PS: you’d like to ask me something? Do it. Do you have doubts about something related to this article? Ask me! Do you just want to give me feedback? Contact me!
I will be more than happy to hear anything from you all 🙂


Did you know that?

img from Tumblr.

img from Tumblr.

Here I am after a long absence from this blog. As promised a long time ago, I will now start a new chapter of this adventure, which I had to pause for a while (lots happened in what-I-call “life off the internet”, a new job, a one week trip to Manchester and more – but I am not going to bother you with this matter). I will (hopefully not) annoy you with other kinds of subjects, all related to the majestic world of Science (yes, the one with a capital “s”). I am not going to drown you in a sea made of difficult academic terms for now; what I want to create with you has to start with an introduction that I suggest everyone should read.

Knowledge is the most powerful weapon anyone can have. If you are not sure about it, let’s think about every single dictatorship that has been set up throughout our history. Mussolini? Decided to abolish the usual way of studying, to modify what was being taught in school creating a deep fracture that didn’t allow the new generations to form a real knowledge of the world. Hitler? Did the same, filling schools with his ideals, convincing people without a proper education to follow him as the leader that was going to save them all, as well as burning books (which is not what The Doctor taught us about books, right?). These are just two examples of what can happen if we do not think about the importance of education or of knowing what is really going on around us. With knowledge you can try to divide “good” from “bad”, you can fight for your rights, you can simply do whatever you like with it.

img from Tumblr

img from Tumblr.

Carl Segan said that “we live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology”. To my opinion, this quote has a few meanings: the main one could be that we follow what people tell us. For example we accept that the Earth is round instead of flat or that it is us running in a circle around the Sun simply because “a person said that to me”, not because we know it. The questions to ask are “why does it do that? Why is it round?” and so on. We should not simply agree on what others are telling us, we should be eager to understand it, to actually listen to the explanation given. It is the explanation that gives us the ability to really understand something. Why did Hitler do that? How did he do that? What happened? Those questions will allow us to not make the same mistakes again, because we will know the right answers. Because we will have acknowledged the past.

I am not saying that we should not follow what doctors, scientists, politicians and so on tell us or that everyone should perfectly know everything in detail. Doctors, scientists and etcetera have studied all their lives to be able to tell us most of the things we hear, let’s not forget that. The meaning of this is that we need to understand “things” in order to judge whether following those people is good or bad for our lives. Knowledge makes us powerful, knowledge makes us aware of what is going on in this little world that we call home.

So, let’s fall in love with Science. Let’s understand it together. If we lose, well, we’ll have at least tried.