Biological lipids are a chemically diverse group of compounds, the common and defining feature of which is their insolubility in water. The biological functions of the lipids are as diverse as their chemistry. Fats and oils are the principal stored forms of energy in many organisms. Phospholipids and sterols are major structural elements of biological membranes. Other lipids, although present in relatively small quantities, play crucial roles as enzyme cofactors, electron carriers, light-absorbing pigments, hydrophobic anchors for proteins, “chaperones” to help membrane proteins fold, emulsifying agents in the digestive tract, hormones, and intracellular messengers.

The fats and oils used almost universally as stored forms of energy in living organisms are derivatives of fatty acids. The fatty acids are hydrocarbon derivatives, at about the same low oxidation state (that is, as highly reduced) as the hydrocarbons in fossil fuels. The cellular oxidation of  fatty acids (to CO2 and H2O), like the controlled, rapid burning of fossil fuels in internal combustion engines, is highly exergonic.

Fatty acids are carboxylic acids with hydrocarbon chains ranging from 4 to 36 carbons long (C4 to C36 ). In some fatty acids, this chain is unbranched and fully saturated (contains no double bonds); in others, the chain contains one or more double bonds.  A few contain three-carbon rings, hydroxyl groups, or methyl-group branches.

The most commonly occurring fatty acids have even numbers of carbon atoms in an unbranched chain of 12 to 24 carbons.

storage lipids FIGURE DEPICTING Fats in adipose tissue through scanning electron microscope
FIGURE DEPICTING :- Fats in adipose tissue through scanning electron microscope



The simplest lipids constructed from fatty acids are the triacylglycerols, also referred to as triglycerides, fats, or neutral fats. Triacylglycerols are composed of three fatty acids, each in ester linkage with a single glycerol. Those containing the same kind of fatty acid in all three positions are called simple triacylglycerols and are named after the fatty acid they contain. Simple triacylglycerols of 16:0, 18:0, and 18:1, for example, are tripalmitin, tristearin, and triolein, respectively.

Most naturally occurring triacylglycerols are mixed; they contain two or three different fatty acids. To name these compounds unambiguously, the name and position of each fatty acid must be specified. Because the polar hydroxyls of glycerol and the polar carboxylates of the fatty acids are bound in ester linkages, triacylglycerols are nonpolar, hydrophobic molecules, essentially insoluble in water. Lipids have lower specific gravities than water, which explains why mixtures of oil and water (oil-and-vinegar salad dressing, for example) have two phases: oil, with the lower specific gravity, floats on the aqueous phase.

FIGURE DEPICTING- Triacylglycerol
FIGURE DEPICTING :- Triacylglycerol


In most eukaryotic cells, triacylglycerols form a separate phase of microscopic, oily droplets in the aqueous cytosol, serving as depots of metabolic fuel. In vertebrates, specialized cells called adipocytes, or fat cells, store large amounts of triacylglycerols as fat droplets that nearly fill the cell. Triacylglycerols are also stored as oils in the seeds of many types of plants, providing energy and biosynthetic precursors during seed germination. Adipocytes and germinating seeds contain lipases, enzymes that catalyze the hydrolysis of stored triacylglycerols, releasing fatty acids for export to sites where they are required as fuel


  • There are two significant advantages to using triacylglycerols as stored fuels, rather than polysaccharides such as glycogen and starch. First, the carbon atoms of fatty acids are more reduced than those of sugars, so oxidation of triacylglycerols yields more than twice as much energy, gram for gram, as the oxidation of carbohydrates.
  • Second, because triacylglycerols are hydrophobic and therefore unhydrated, the organism that carries stored fuel in the form of fat does not have to carry the extra weight of water of hydration that is associated with stored polysaccharides (2 g per gram of polysaccharide). Humans have fat tissue (composed primarily of adipocytes) under the skin, in the abdominal cavity, and in the mammary glands. Moderately obese people with 15 to 20 kg of triacylglycerols deposited in their adipocytes could meet their energy needs for months by drawing on their fat stores. In contrast, the human body can store less than a day’s energy supply in the form of glycogen. Carbohydrates such as glucose do offer certain advantages as quick sources of metabolic energy, one of which is their ready solubility in water.
  • In some animals, triacylglycerols stored under the skin serve not only as energy stores but as insulation against low temperatures. Seals, walruses, penguins, and other warm-blooded polar animals are amply padded with triacylglycerols. In hibernating animals (bears, for example), the huge fat reserves accumulated before hibernation serve the dual purposes of insulation and energy storage.


  • Lipids (Greek: lipos, fat) are substances of biological origin that are soluble in organic solvents such as chloroform and methanol but are only sparingly soluble, if at all, in water. Hence, they are easily separated from other biological materials by extraction into organic solvents and may be further fractionated by such techniques as adsorption chromatography, thin layer chromatography, and reverse-phase chromatography. Fats, oils, certain vitamins and hormones, and most nonprotein membrane components are lipids.
  • The fats and oils that occur in plants and animals consist largely of mixtures of triacylglycerols (also referred to as triglycerides or neutral fats).These nonpolar, water-insoluble substances are fatty acid triesters of glycerol: Triacylglycerols function as energy reservoirs in animals and are therefore their most abundant class of lipids even though they are not components of biological membranes. The so-called simple triacylglycerols contain one type of fatty acid residue and are named accordingly. For example,tristearoylglycerol or tristearin contains three stearic acid residues, whereas trioleoylglycerol or triolein has three oleic acid residues. The more common mixed triacylglycerols contain two or three different types of fatty acid residues and are named according to their placement on the glycerol moiety.
  • Fats and oils (which differ only in that fats are solid and oils are liquid at room temperature) are complex mixtures of simple and mixed triacylglycerols whose fatty acid compositions vary with the organism that produced them. Plant oils are usually richer in unsaturated fatty acid residues than are animal fats, as the lower melting points of oils imply.


  • Lehninger  principles of biochemistry seventh edition By  David L. Nelson and Michael M. Cox

:- Article Written By Zahra Madraswala


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