Lipids include a diverse group of compounds that are largely nonpolar. This is because they are hydrocarbons that include mostly nonpolar carbon-carbon or carbon-hydrogen bonds. Non-polar molecules are hydrophobic (“water-fearing”), or insoluble in water. Lipids perform many different functions in a cell. Cells store energy for long-term use in the form of fats. Lipids also provide insulation from the environment for plants and animals.
For example, they help keep aquatic birds and mammals dry when forming a protective layer over fur or feathers because of their water-repellent hydrophobic nature. Lipids are also the building blocks of many hormones and are an important constituent of all cellular membranes. Lipids include fats, oils, waxes, phospholipids, and steroids.
Fats and Oils:
A fat molecule consists of two main components—glycerol and fatty acids. Glycerol is an organic compound (alcohol) with three carbons, five hydrogens, and three hydroxyl (OH) groups. Fatty acids have a long chain of hydrocarbons to which a carboxyl group is attached, hence the name “fatty acid.” The number of carbons in the fatty acid may range from 4 to 36. The most common are those containing 12–18 carbons. In a fat molecule, the fatty acids attached to each of the glycerol molecule’s three carbons with an ester bond through an oxygen atom.