Everything that surrounds us can be classified as organic matter or inorganic matter.
- Organic material. It is defined as being made up of organic molecules whose main structure is based on carbon, which forms carbon-hydrogen or carbon-carbon bonds. For instance: paper, starch, and milk. This means that the carbon atoms are attached to one or more hydrogen atoms or that two or more carbon atoms are attached. Likewise, organic molecules can also contain atoms of other elements, such as oxygen, sulfur, phosphorus, and nitrogen, among others.
- Inorganic material. It is one whose chemical compounds are not structured based on carbon-carbon bonds. For instance: glass, distilled water, potassium. This is not to say that no inorganic compounds contain carbon.
Characteristics of organic matter
- It is present in all living beings: plants, bacteria, animals, etc.
- Organic molecules, besides carbon atoms, are composed of oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, phosphorus, boron, and halogens.
- There may be natural organic molecules, which originated from living organisms or by natural processes, or artificial organic molecules, created by man.
- The organic matter that is part of living beings is composed mainly of biomolecules and can be classified into:
- Carbohydrates. They are composed mainly of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen, although some contain nitrogen, sulfur, and phosphorus. They are also called sugars.
- Lipids. They are composed mainly of carbon and hydrogen, to a lesser extent, oxygen, and in some cases, phosphorus, sulfur, and nitrogen. They are insoluble in water (hydrophobic) but soluble in organic solvents.
- Protein. They are made up of amino acids (organic molecules composed of an amino group (-NH2) at one end and a carboxyl group (-COOH) at the other) linked by peptide bonds (bond between the amino group of one amino acid and the carboxyl group of another amino acid).
- Nucleic acids. They are polymers made up of units called nucleotides (molecules formed by a covalent bond between a nucleoside (nitrogenous base and a pentose) and a phosphate group (PO43-)). They are the substances that store the genetic information of living beings.
- Small molecules. For example, hormones and alkaloids.
- Organic matter of natural origin that is not part of living beings corresponds to those substances outside living organisms and not part of them—for example, oil.
- Organic matter of synthetic origin is created by humans from inorganic substances thanks to the Wöhler synthesis.
- Organic matter is a large part of the food of all heterotrophic organisms.
Characteristics of inorganic matter
- In the few cases where it does contain carbon, it does not form carbon-hydrogen or carbon-carbon bonds as the backbone of its molecules.
- It is composed of atoms of more elements than organic matter.
- Unlike organic matter, its compounds are not usually formed by covalent bonds (electron compartment). Inorganic compounds have mostly ionic bonds or metallic bonds.
- Inorganic matter can be classified into:
- Binary compounds. They are compounds formed by atoms of two chemical elements. For example, metal oxides (iron (III) oxide, Fe2OR3), anhydrides (carbon dioxide or carbon dioxide, CO2 ), peroxides (hydrogen peroxide, H2OR2), Metal hydrides (sodium hydride, NaH), volatile hydrides (ammonia, NH3), Hydracids (hydrochloric acid, HCl(ac)), binary salts (sodium chloride, NaCl).
- Ternary compounds. They are compounds formed by atoms of three chemical elements. For example, hydroxides (sodium hydroxide, NaOH), oxo acids (sulfuric acid, H2SW4), and oxysalts (magnesium sulfate, MgSO4).
- Autotrophic organisms use inorganic matter to produce organic substances.
Around us, organic matter and inorganic matter are rarely separated. For example, a stone is made of organic matter, but multiple organisms, such as moss, fungi, or small insects, can exist. Glasses are made of inorganic matter but can be covered with tiny bacteria, living things, and organic matter. We can leave organic remains of our skin on any surface.
Although our body is made mainly of organic matter (since all tissues and organs are made of it), we need many salts and minerals (inorganic compounds) in addition to water.
Examples of organic matter
- Sugar. Despite appearing very similar to coarse salt (inorganic substance), sugar differs by an essential characteristic: sugar is organic. The substance from which it is made is sucrose, whose molecule is made up exclusively of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms. It is one of the disaccharides.
- Paper. It is a sheet formed mainly by the organic substance cellulose, which comes from vegetable fibers. In manufacturing paper, multiple inorganic substances can intervene, but we consider it mainly organic matter because it is made up of cellulose.
- Starch. It is an organic compound made up of two different glucose molecules. Vegetables store their energy in starch. We can find it in flour and pastry products.
- Milk. The milk we usually consume is an animal product and, therefore, is an organic substance. It is mainly made up of lactose, various lipids, and caseins (a type of protein).
- Spider silk. It is a fiber made from protein. Spiders use them to hunt insects, build nests, protect their eggs, and travel through the air.
- Soap. It is made of organic matter of synthetic origin from a chemical reaction between an alkali (inorganic) and a lipid (organic).
- Corn oil. Like all oils, it is a type of lipid. Because they are hydrophobic at the cellular level, oils can never fully mix with water.
- Nails. Although when we cut them, we do not feel pain, the nails are part of the organic matter of our body. They are made up of dead cells that contain keratin, a protein form.
Examples of inorganic matter
- Salt. Table salt is an inorganic substance made up of sodium and chlorine.
- Gold. It is a pure chemical element. It is a soft and heavy metal traditionally used to create coins. Due to its high corrosion resistance, it is used in industry and electronics.
- Glass. Although we are primarily familiar with human-made glass, it can also be found in nature. For example, obsidian. The glass in everyday objects is made from silica sand, sodium carbonate, and limestone, melting them at 1,500ºC.
- Chlorine or bleach. We commonly know chlorine or bleach as sodium hypochlorite, a compound of chlorine, sodium, and oxygen.
- Distilled water. In nature, water contains many organic substances, even water suitable for human consumption. But the substance of water is made up of molecules that contain only hydrogen and oxygen. That is, it is an inorganic substance. The distillation process is used to obtain water in its pure state, which guarantees that there is no foreign substance in the final result through the successive vaporization and condensation of the water.
- Potassium. It is a type of alkali metal. It is one of the inorganic substances we need for our bodies’ proper functioning. It is involved in muscle contraction, neuromuscular activity, and cell development, among other functions.
- Iron. It is one of the most abundant metals in the earth’s crust. Humans have used it to create tools and other types of objects since prehistoric times. However, it is also a substance that our body needs, although in such small proportions that they are invisible.