This figure shows a double helix.

Figure 2.1Human DNA
Human DNA is described as a double helix that resembles a molecular spiral staircase. In humans the DNA is organized into 46 chromosomes.


Learning Objectives

  • Describe the fundamental composition of matter
  • Identify the three subatomic particles
  • Identify the four most abundant elements in the body
  • Explain the relationship between an atom’s number of electrons and its relative stability
  • Distinguish between ionic bonds, covalent bonds, and hydrogen bonds
  • Explain the importance of the inorganic compounds that contribute to life, such as water, salts, acids, and bases
  • Compare and contrast the four important classes of organic (carbon-based) compounds—proteins, carbohydrates, lipids and nucleic acids—according to their composition and functional importance to human life

The smallest, most fundamental material components of the human body are basic chemical elements composed of atoms.  Life cannot exist without many of the elements that are part of the earth (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen…just to name a few).  These elements can form both the inorganic and organic chemical compounds important to life, including, for example, water, glucose, and proteins. This chapter begins by examining elements and how the structures of atoms, the basic units of matter, determine the characteristics of elements by the number of protons, neutrons, and electrons in the atoms. The chapter then builds the framework of life from there.