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The Chemistry of Life: Organic and...

The element carbon forms a vast number of compounds. Over 16 million carbon-containing compounds are known, and about 90% of the new compounds synthesized each year contain carbon. The study of carbon compounds constitutes a separate branch of chemistry known as organic chemistry. This term arose from the eighteenth-century belief that organic compounds could be formed only by living systems. This idea was disproved in 1828 by the German chemist Friedrich Wöhler when he synthesized urea (H2NCONH2), an organic substance found in the urine of mammals, by heating ammonium cyanate (NH4OCN), an inorganic substance.

The notion that organic chemicals and living organisms are connected is certainly true in one sense: Life as we know it could not exist without a vast array of complex, biologically important organic molecules. The study of the chemistry of living species is called biological chemistry, or biochemistry.

In this final chapter we present a brief view of some of the elementary aspects of organic chemistry and biochemistry. Many of you will study these subjects in greater detail by taking additional courses devoted entirely to these topics. As you read the materials that follow, you will notice that many of the concepts important for understanding the fundamentals of organic chemistry and biochemistry have been developed in earlier chapters.

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