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What are Organic Molecules?

What are organic molecules?


Do not confuse organic compounds with naturally produced food. Organic compounds are often produced in a laboratory.

Organic chemistry is the branch of chemistry that deals with organic molecules. An organic molecule is one which contains carbon, although not all compounds that contain carbon are organic molecules. Noticeable exceptions are carbon monoxide (\(\text{CO}\)), carbon dioxide (\(\text{CO}_{2}\)), carbonates (e.g. calcium carbonate), carbides (e.g. calcium carbide) and cyanides (e.g. sodium cyanide). Pure carbon compounds such as diamond and graphite are also not organic compounds. Organic molecules can range in size from simple molecules to complex structures containing thousands of atoms!

Although carbon is present in all organic compounds, other elements such as hydrogen \((\text{H})\), oxygen \((\text{O})\), nitrogen \((\text{N})\), sulfur \((\text{S})\) and phosphorus \((\text{P})\) are also common in these molecules.

Definition: Organic molecule

An organic molecule is a molecule that contains carbon atoms (generally bonded to other carbon atoms as well as hydrogen atoms).

A simple organic molecule, propane, can be used in a gas lamp (left). The complex organic molecule DNA carries the genetic code of a person and can be used to identify them.

Organic compounds are very important in daily life and they range from simple to extremely complex (see figure above). Organic molecules make up a big part of our own bodies, they are in the food we eat and in the clothes we wear. Organic compounds are also used to make products such as medicines, plastics, washing powders, dyes, along with a long list of other items. There are millions organic compounds found in nature, as well as millions of synthetic (man-made) organic compounds.

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