Site author Richard Steane
The BioTopics website gives access to interactive resource material, developed to support the learning and teaching of Biology at a variety of levels.

Monomers and polymers

Poly- means many -
Mono- means one or single

Polymers are substances made up from many smaller sub-units, chemically joined together.

These smaller sub-units are molecules called monomers.

monomersx6 (5K)
This diagram represents a number of monomers.

Biological molecules are joined together using a chemical reaction called condensation.

This forms a chemical bond between the 2 molecules with the elimination of water, so a molecule of water is produced for each bond. Actually, -H is taken from one side and -OH from the other.

triangle (1K) sexmerisation (88K)

This animation shows a small polymer being built up from six monomers. Tip: keep the mouse pointer off the space above - it resets the display until it is clicked on.

hydro- means water
-lysis means splitting

The opposite process to condensation is hydrolysis, which breaks the bond(s) in the polymer to release smaller molecules (often individual monomers).

This requires a water molecule to split the bond. This adds -H to one side and -OH to the other. This is what happens in digestion.

triangle (1K) hydrolysis3x2 (65K)

This animation shows a polymer being broken down into dimers.

Examples of biological monomers and polymers:

Click here to see things differently
Polymers are broken down
by hydrolysis into:
Polysaccharides Monosaccharides
(simple sugars)
and proteins
Nucleic acids Nucleotides

The processes of condensation and hydrolysis, and biological molecules are dealt with in different ways on this site:

Condensation and hydrolysis - leading to other webpages with several animations of the processes
Molecular structure of glucose and other carbohydrates - leading to other webpages with 3-D interactive molecules
Amino acid structure - a simple webpage with more mouseover interaction

Other topics in this series (Biological Chemicals)

Carbohydrates - Monosaccharides, disaccharides, polysaccharides
Lipids - Fatty acids, triglycerides, phospholipids
Proteins - Amino acids, polypeptides
Enzymes - Hydrolysis and synthesis of biological chemicals all take place under enzyme control
pH and hydrogen ion concentration [H+] - All to do with dissociation of water and resulting ionic concentrations
ATP - The energy currency of the cell
Nucleic acids - Nucleotides, DNA, RNA, and of course Ribose and deoxyribose
DNA replication - Doubling of the double helix
Water - The Biological Significance of Water, and Molecular Explanation
Inorganic ions - Hydrogen, iron, sodium, phosphate

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