A molecule containing phosphorus and oxygen.
A lipid molecule with a hydrophilic "head" region around the ionic phosphate group and a long hydrophobic hydrocarbon tail that forms a bilayer in aqueous solutions
Insoluble in water, repel water.
Molecules that absorb or dissolve in water - usually polar molecules.
Cells adapted to carry information in the form of electrical impulses
Every cell contains high levels of inorganic phosphate ions (-PO43-). Sometimes one of the fatty acids in a triglyceride is replaced by a phosphate group to form a phospholipid. Phospholipid molecules have a hydrophilic region around the phosphate group which is soluble in water and hydrophobic regions around the fatty acids which are not soluble and repel water. This is a key element in the structure of cell membranes and so in the nature of life itself.
Structure of a phospholipid – the hydrophilic and hydrophobic regions of the molecule have a major effect on the structure of cell membranes
Waxes are lipids made up of very long chain fatty acids joined to alcohols by ester bonds that are insoluble in water but soluble in organic polar solvents. The big difference between waxes and triglycerides is that in waxes there is only one fatty acid joined to a single alcohol, because alcohols only have one available hydroxyl group, unlike glycerol which had three. Waxes on the surface of leaves and insect cuticles, along with oils on feathers and fur, form a water-proof layer which enables the organisms to survive in their environments.
The waterproof waxy layer of a leaf stops water getting into or out of the plant cells underneath
Steroids are insoluble in water but otherwise are not typical lipids – they are made up of large numbers of carbon atoms arranged in complex ring structures. They are very important in biological systems as hormones.
Other lipids or lipid-derived molecules which are important in biological systems include:
Blubber beneath the skin of a polar bear helps it keep warm and provides buoyancy for swimming. (Photo credit: Understanding Animal Research)