The term macromolecule by definition implies "large molecule". In the context of biochemistry, the term may be applied to the four conventional biopolymers (nucleotides, proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids), as well as non-polymeric molecules with large molecular mass such as macrocycles.


The term "macromolecule" was coined by Nobel laureate Hermann Staudinger in the 1920s although his first relevant publication on this field only mentions "high molecular compounds" (in excess of 1000 atoms). [Staudinger, H.; Fritschi, J. "Über die Hydrierung des Kautschuks und über seine Konstitution". Helv. Chim. Acta 1922, 5, 785–806.] . At that time the phrase "polymer" as introduced by Berzelius in 1833 had a different meaning from that of today: it simply was another form of isomerism for example with benzene and acetylene and had little to do with size "The Origin of the Polymer Concept" by William B. Jensen Journal of Chemical Education • Vol. 85 No. 5 May 624 2008] .

Usage of the term to describe different forms of large molecules varies among the disciplines. For example, while biology refers to macromolecules as the four large molecules living things are composed of, from the perspective of chemistry, the term may refer to aggregates of two or more macromolecules held together by intermolecular forces rather than covalent bonds but which do not readily dissociate. [van Holde, K.E. "Principles of Physical Biochemistry" Prentice Hall: New Jersey, 1998]

According to the recommended IUPAC definition, the term "macromolecule" as used in polymer science refers only to a single molecule. For example, a single polymeric molecule is appropriately described as a "macromolecule" or "polymer molecule" rather than a "polymer", which suggests a substance composed of macromolecules. [ [] ]

Because of their size, macromolecules are not conveniently described in terms of stoichiometry alone. The structure of simple macromolecules, such as homopolymers, may be described in terms of the individual monomer subunit and total molecular mass. Complicated biomacromolecules, on the other hand, require multi-faceted structural description such as the hierarchy of structures used to describe proteins.


Substances that are composed of macromolecules often have unusual physical properties. Although too small to see, individual pieces of DNA in solution can be broken in two simply by suctioning the solution through an ordinary straw. This is not true of smaller molecules. The 1964 edition of Linus Pauling's "College Chemistry" asserted that DNA in nature is never longer than about 5000 base pairs. This is because biochemists were inadvertently and consistently breaking their samples into pieces. In fact, the DNA of chromosomes can be tens of millions of base pairs long.

Another common macromolecular property that does not characterize smaller molecules is the need for assistance in dissolving into solution. Many require salts or particular ions to dissolve in water. Proteins will denature if the solute concentration of their solution is too high or too low.

High concentrations of macromolecules in a solution can alter the rates and equilibrium constants of the reactions of other macromolecules, through an effect known as macromolecular crowding.cite journal |author=Minton AP |title=How can biochemical reactions within cells differ from those in test tubes? |journal=J. Cell. Sci. |volume=119 |issue=Pt 14 |pages=2863–9 |year=2006 |month=July |pmid=16825427 |doi=10.1242/jcs.03063 |url=] This comes from macromolecules excluding other molecules from a large part of the volume of the solution, thereby increasing these molecules' effective concentration.


External links

* [ Synopsis of Chapter 5, Campbell & Reece, 2002]
* [ Lecture notes on the structure and function of macromolecules]
* [ Several (free) introductory macromolecule related internet-based courses]

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  • macromolécule — [ makromɔlekyl ] n. f. • av. 1948; de macro et molécule ♦ Chim. Molécule formée par l union d un nombre élevé de « motifs moléculaires » identiques et obtenue en général par condensation ou polymérisation (ex. protéine). Adj. MACROMOLÉCULAIRE ,… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Macromolecule — Macromolécule Une macromolécule est une très grande molécule. La notion de macromolécule a été introduite en 1922 par le chimiste allemand Hermann Staudinger. Elle résulte généralement de l assemblage par des liaisons covalentes d un grand nombre …   Wikipédia en Français

  • macromolecule — mac ro*mol e*cule, n. (Chem., Biochem.) A very large molecule, especially a polymer having from hundreds to many thousands of atoms, such as {DNA}, {RNA}, {protein}, {polysaccharide}, {polyethylene}, {polycarbonate}, etc. [PJC] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • macromolecule — macromolecule. См. макромолекула. (Источник: «Англо русский толковый словарь генетических терминов». Арефьев В.А., Лисовенко Л.А., Москва: Изд во ВНИРО, 1995 г.) …   Молекулярная биология и генетика. Толковый словарь.

  • macromolecule — 1886, from MACRO (Cf. macro ) + MOLECULE (Cf. molecule). Apparently coined in On Macro molecules, with the Determinations of the Form of Some of Them, by Anglo Irish physicist G. Johnstone Stoney (1826–1911). Originally of crystals. Meaning… …   Etymology dictionary

  • macromolecule — ► NOUN Chemistry ▪ a molecule containing a very large number of atoms, such as a protein, nucleic acid, or synthetic polymer. DERIVATIVES macromolecular adjective …   English terms dictionary

  • macromolecule — [mak′rəmōl΄mak΄rō mäl′ə kyo͞ol΄] n. a very large molecule, as a protein or polymer molecule, composed of hundreds of thousands of atoms: also macromole [mak′rəmōl΄] macromolecular [mak΄rəmō lek′yo͞o lər] adj …   English World dictionary

  • Macromolécule — Une macromolécule est une très grande molécule, qui possède donc une masse moléculaire élevée[1]. La notion de macromolécule a été introduite en 1922 par le chimiste allemand Hermann Staudinger. Un système formé par un ensemble de macromolécules… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • macromolecule — makromolekulė statusas T sritis fizika atitikmenys: angl. giant molecule; macromolecule vok. Makromolekül, n rus. макромолекула, f pranc. macromolécule, f …   Fizikos terminų žodynas

  • macromolécule — makromolekulė statusas T sritis fizika atitikmenys: angl. giant molecule; macromolecule vok. Makromolekül, n rus. макромолекула, f pranc. macromolécule, f …   Fizikos terminų žodynas

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