Bodies are extremely complex. Though we often think of our bodies as pure biology, the truth is chemistry is the catalyst that makes the human-machine run. The twists and turns in the complicated system of chemistry and human function can lead to some shocking revelations.
Case in point:
There is acid in our blood. And it plays an important role in our respiratory system.
To understand how this is possible, we will look at carboxylic acids. And the specific type of carboxylic acid that keeps our blood pumping.
Carboxylic acids are a class of organic compounds. These compounds are distinguished by a carbon (C) atom bonded to an oxygen (O) atom with a double bond. Two additional single bonds contribute a hydroxyl group (―OH) and a hydrogen (H) atom, which bonds to the carbon. The result is carboxylic acid (COOH).
Various types of carboxylic acids were uncovered in surprising places. They were originally found in biological sources. At the time of discovery, scientists were unaware of their structural formulas. So they often chose names for their discoveries that reflected their source. An example of this would be butyric acid which was first found in butter. It was named for the Latin word for “butter,” butyrum.
Butyric acid is just one example among many of carboxylic acids. Another type of carboxylic acid lends a sour taste to vinegar. While yet another is used in the production of polymers.
But the carboxylic acid found in human blood is carbonic acid. Its job is in the respiratory system where it is responsible for completing the chemical process that allows us to breathe.
Here is how it works:
After blood becomes oxygenated, it is sent off to provide oxygen to the organs and tissue. Blood carries oxygen in a protein called hemoglobin. As the oxygen leaves the hemoglobin and feeds the tissues, the body produces a sort of chemical respiratory waste. This respiratory waste is made up of heat and carbon dioxide (CO2). The carbon dioxide and heat actually trigger the hemoglobin to release even more of the oxygen it is holding. The more oxygen the hemoglobin releases, the more waste the hemoglobin can carry.
This is where carbonic acid comes in. When CO2 reacts with the water in blood it creates carbonic acid. The carbonic acid breaks down into a bicarbonate and a hydrogen ion which, again, causes the hemoglobin to release any additional oxygen it may still be holding. The ions jump aboard in place of the oxygen, causing the hemoglobin to bind up. Then the hemoglobin heads back to the lungs where the carbonic acid ions convert back to carbon dioxide. At this point, the carbon dioxide gets exhaled and the hemoglobin is free to carry fresh oxygen. And the whole process can begin again.
The human body is a fascinating blend of chemistry and biology. And there is a lot to be gained by examining biology through a chemical lens. Doctors with a clear understanding of the chemistry that occurs within our bodies can properly diagnose us when we are ill. And chemists with an eye to the biological world are able to create pharmaceuticals that help us maintain our quality of life.
Whether your work impacts the medical community or not, Noah Technologies is here to help. Noah Tech works with manufacturers, developers, and researchers to provide high-quality chemicals as well as knowledgeable expertise.