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, which are those whose main structure is based on carbon, which forms carbon-hydrogen or carbon-carbon bonds. For instance: paper, starch, milk. This means that the carbon atoms are attached to one or more hydrogen atoms, or that two or more carbon atoms are attached to each other. Likewise, organic molecules can also contain atoms of other elements such as oxygen, sulfur, phosphorus, nitrogen, among others.
- Inorganic material. It is one whose chemical compounds do not have their structure based on carbon-carbon bonds. For instance: glass, distilled water, potassium. This is not to say that there are no inorganic compounds that contain carbon.
Characteristics of organic matter
- It is present in all living beings: plants, bacteria, animals, etc.
- Organic molecules, in addition to essentially containing carbon atoms, are composed of oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, phosphorus, boron and halogens.
- There may be natural organic molecules, which are originated by living organisms or by processes in nature, 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 but that is not part of living beings corresponds to those substances that are outside living organisms and are not part of them. For example, oil.
- Organic matter of synthetic origin is that which 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 a greater variety of 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), 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 on it. Glasses are made of inorganic matter, but they can be covered with tiny bacteria, which are living things and therefore are 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) there are many salts and minerals (inorganic compounds) that we need in addition to water.
Examples of organic matter
- Sugar. Despite being very similar in appearance to coarse salt (inorganic substance), sugar differs by an essential characteristic: it 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 the manufacture of paper, multiple inorganic substances can intervene, but due to the fact that it is made up of cellulose, we consider it mainly organic matter.
- 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. They are used by spiders to hunt insects, to build nests and protect their eggs, and to 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.
- Some. Despite the fact that 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, which is a form of protein.
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, which was traditionally used to create coins. Due to its high resistance to corrosion, 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 that we see in everyday objects is made from silica sand, sodium carbonate and limestone, melting them at 1,500ºC.
- Chlorine, bleach, or bleach. What we commonly know as chlorine, bleach, or bleach is actually sodium hypochlorite, a compound of chlorine, sodium, and oxygen.
- Distilled water. In nature, water contains an enormous amount of 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. To obtain water in its pure state, the distillation process is used which, through the successive vaporization and condensation of the water, guarantees that there is no foreign substance in the final result.
- Potassium. It is a type of alkali metal. It is one of the inorganic substances that we need for the proper functioning of our body. 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. It has been used by humans 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 not even visible.