1155264954

1155264954

Male diagram x-ray nervous system. Full figure on black background.

Photo by: LEONELLO CALVETTI/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

LEONELLO CALVETTI/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Survival Chemistry: The Ingredients for Life on Earth

By: Robin Fearon

Oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, and a few other elements from the periodic table make up 99% of our bodies.

October 08, 2020

Our body’s chemical and physical make-up and the way it functions are incredibly complex. Human bodies are estimated to contain up to one hundred trillion cells. We need fuel for these cells to function, provided by molecules, compounds, and chemical elements, yet 99% of our body’s mass consists of just six elements.

The Components

1207979734

1207979734

illustration DNA And Blood cell Futuristic digital design,Abstract background for Business Science and technology

Photo by: MR.Cole_Photographer

MR.Cole_Photographer

Oxygen (65%), carbon (18%), hydrogen (10%), nitrogen (3%), calcium (1.5%) and phosphorus (1%) are the most common. Substitute sulfur, which in our bodies makes up 0.25% of mass, for calcium and you have the chemical ingredients for all life.

Carbon is the basis for thousands of compounds, such as fats, proteins, and nucleic acids (including DNA) that sustain us. Oxygen and hydrogen bond with carbon to form the organic compounds that are the basis for all life on Earth. Plus, hydrogen forms water with oxygen (H2O), making up between 65 and 90% of every cell.

Nitrogen is also found in many organic molecules including DNA and amino acids. These are vital to build proteins, synthesize hormones for development and growth, and make neurotransmitters for brain function. But without the body’s most common metal–calcium–we wouldn’t be able to stand upright or eat properly, as it firms up our bones and teeth.

Around 60 chemical elements in total are present in our bodies. Trace amounts of some elements, less than 0.01% of body mass, are still considered essential. These include zinc, selenium, cobalt, iodine, manganese, and chromium–important in functions like hormone regulation, regulating sugar levels, enzyme production, and protein formation.

How We Survive, Basically

1195715962

1195715962

Digital generated image of blue particles get into spiral shape.

Photo by: Andriy Onufriyenko

Andriy Onufriyenko

We have six basic life processes that we undergo as living organisms. We all grow and develop, move, organize our cells, reproduce, use energy, and exhibit homeostasis (i.e. regulate or balance functions). To do this, we need steady intake or production of certain important molecules.

Water is the building block of most tissue, making up about 70% of our brain and heart. We can survive weeks without food, but only days without water. An adult male needs about 3.2 quarts (3 liters) a day in food or liquids to survive--women need slightly less at 2.3 quarts (2.2 liters).

Water is a life preserver. It lubricates our joints, regulates temperature through sweat, provides saliva to digest, acts as a shock absorber for the brain, and helps to metabolize and transport carbohydrates or proteins through our bloodstream.

Just as vital is the oxygen gas molecule O2. We can live about three minutes without it. This highly reactive gas forms oxides with most elements and provides the energy released by cellular respiration that drives our bodies.

Another essential macro-molecule: deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA makes the blueprint for our entire physical make-up. This double helix nucleic acid contains our exact genetic instructions and tells our cells how every single protein should be made: from nails, to hair, to the antibodies that fight disease.

Another cellular essential is the molecule adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. Containing much of the body’s phosphor, this organic compound stores, and transports chemical energy within cells. Our nervous system relies on ATP to function and our body continuously recycles it. One single molecule is recycled 500–700 times a day.

How do you feel now about these life-giving chemicals? Well, if it focused your attention, that is down to another chemical neurotransmitter in our brain called norepinephrine, which also helps us retrieve memories. If you feel happier, that is serotonin, which also controls moods, sleep, and appetite.

We still don’t know with 100% certainty what role all the chemical elements perform in our bodies, but studying them provides a fascinating insight into how life goes on.

Next Up

The Coronavirus: What You Need to Know About the Virus

As the death tolls rise, Coronavirus is on the minds of people all over the world. Learn about this new virus and how we got here. Originally published: 2/20/2020 Updated: 3/9/2020

The Chicxulub Crater, A Killer Asteroid, and an Extinction-Level Event

Core samples from the Chicxulub Crater paint a picture of the dinosaurs' last days.

9 Things That Make Earth the Perfect Place for Life

There are a few key ingredients are needed for life to exist.

How Did the Solar System Form?

How did our solar system form? It's a pretty simple and straightforward question, but as with most things in science, simple and straightforward doesn't necessarily mean easy.

Get Celestial with Lowell Observatory LIVE!

Our friends at Lowell Observatory are serving up our solar system on a platter live!

Stuck at Home? What to See in the Night Sky this Month

In times of darkness and incertainty, opt for exploration of wonder in the skies.

Following Blue Origin’s NS-12 Rocket Launch

Blue Origin, Billionaire Jeff Bezos’ spaceflight company, is rescheduled to launch its NS-12 reusable spacecraft on Wednesday, December 11. Watch it LIVE.

Why We'll (Probably) Never Be Able to Teleport

For many of us, teleportation would be the absolute best way to travel. Imagine just stepping into a transporter and being able to go thousands of miles in nearly an instant.

That’s a (Weirdly) Big Black Hole!

Recently astronomers identified a black hole near a star called LB-1 and they found out that the black hole is 70 times the mass of the sun. This is a mystery because the biggest black holes we can get from the deaths of the most massive stars are around 30 times the mass of the sun, so how did black hole get this big?

Check out the Earth’s 800,000 Year Old Battle Wound

Scientists may have discovered the location of an ancient buried crater, a result of a meteorite that barreled into the Earth some 800,000 years ago.