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Biochemists regard sugars as relatively simple carbohydrates. Sugars include monosaccharides, disaccharides, trisaccharides and the oligosaccharides - containing 1, 2, 3, and 4 or more monosaccharide units respectively. Sugars contain either aldehyde groups (-CHO) or ketone groups (C=O), where there are carbon-oxygen double bonds, making the sugars reactive. Most simple sugars (monosaccharides) conform to (CH2O)n where n is between 3 and 7. A notable exception, deoxyribose, as its name suggests, has a "missing" oxygen atom. All saccharides with more than one ring in their structure result from two or more monosaccharides joined by glycosidic bonds with the resultant loss of a molecule of water (H2O) per bond.
As well as using classifications based on their reactive group, chemists may also subdivide sugars according to the number of carbons they contain. Derivatives of trioses (C3H6O3) are intermediates in glycolysis. Pentoses (5-carbon sugars) include ribose and deoxyribose, which form part of nucleic acids. Ribose also forms a component of several chemicals that have importance in the metabolic process, including NADH and ATP. Hexoses (6-carbon sugars) include glucose, a universal substrate for the production of energy in the form of ATP. Through photosynthesis plants produce glucose, which has the formula C6H12O6, and then convert it for storage as an energy-reserve in the form of other carbohydrates such as starch, or (as in cane and beet) as sucrose (table sugar). Sucrose has the chemical formula C12H22O11.
Many pentoses and hexoses can form ring structures. In these closed-chain forms, the aldehyde or ketone group remains unfree, so many of the reactions typical of these groups cannot occur. Glucose in solution exists mostly in the ring form at equilibrium, with less than 0.1% of the molecules in the open-chain form.
Monosaccharides in a closed-chain form can form glycosidic bonds with other monosaccharides, creating disaccharides (such as sucrose) and polysaccharides (such as starch). Enzymes must hydrolyse or otherwise break these glycosidic bonds before such compounds become metabolised. After digestion and absorption. the principal monosaccharides present in the blood and internal tissues include glucose, fructose, and galactose.
The prefix "glyco-" indicates the presence of a sugar in an otherwise non-carbohydrate substance. Note for example glycoproteins, proteins connected to one or more sugars.
Disaccharides occur most commonly as sucrose (cane or beet sugar - made from one glucose and one fructose), lactose (milk sugar - made from one glucose and one galactose) and maltose (made of two glucoses). These disaccharides have the formula C12H22O11.
Hydrolysis can convert sucrose into a syrup of fructose and glucose, producing invert sugar. This resulting syrup, sweeter than the original sucrose, has uses in making confections because it does not crystallize as easily and thus produces a smoother finished product.
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