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Cell Macromolecules

  1. Dennis Bray

Published Online: 15 DEC 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0001269.pub2



How to Cite

Bray, D. 2010. Cell Macromolecules. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 DEC 2010


The distinctive properties of living organisms arise from very large molecules called macromolecules, which may contain anything from hundreds to many billions of atoms. Macromolecules are polymers made in the cell by linking small chemical subunits together in a specific sequence. Nucleic acids – deoxyribonucleic acid and ribonucleic acid – are polymers of nucleotide bases and their principle function is to store and transmit hereditary information encoded in the sequence of subunits. Proteins are chains of amino acids that fold up into distinctive shapes and thereby acquire distinctive chemical properties, they are the principal building blocks of the cell and also responsible for activities such as enzyme catalysis, the synthesis of molecules and movements. Nucleic acids, proteins and other macromolecules such as polysaccharides interact with each other and with small molecules through weak chemical bonds. These allow specific molecular recognition to occur and form the basis of information transfer, cell movements, differentiation and the formation of distinctive cells and tissues.

Key Concepts:

  • Macromolecules are polymers built from subunits in a specific sequence.

  • Covalent bonds hold a macromolecule together; noncovalent bonds enable it to recognise other molecules.

  • RNA and DNA carry information in their nucleotide sequence.

  • Proteins fold into specific shapes and provide the building blocks of the cell.

  • The function of a protein depends on its ability to interact with and modify other molecules.


  • macromolecules;
  • nucleic acid;
  • proteins;
  • polysaccharides