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Biomolecules glossary & taxonomy
Evolving terminology for emerging technologies
Comments? Questions? Revisions?
   Mary Chitty MSLS
Last revised July 10, 2019 

Biology  term index  Related glossaries include:  DNA,   Glycosciences,    Pharmaceutical biology,   Proteins,   RNA,   Sequences, DNA & beyond

amino acids: Proteins glossary
base, base pair: Sequences, DNA & beyond

biological macromolecules: DNA, RNA and proteins. This term is used particularly in reference to structural modeling

biomolecular interactions: Biomolecular interactions, including contacts between biological macromolecules (protein/protein or protein/nucleic acids) and protein-ligand interactions are central to biochemistry. This grouping addresses fundamental questions concerning, for example, the recognition of DNA by bacterial proteins, the biophysical basis of allostery and the supply of metals to proteins. Multiple projects aim to identify targets for new antimicrobial (and antiviral) compounds and typically exploit a wide range of chemical, biochemical, and biophysical methods.  Durham University,  Narrower terms: Proteomics protein- DNA interactions, protein- protein interactions, protein- RNA interactions  Related terms: Omes & omics: interactome, interactomics, kinomics

biomolecules: Wikipedia 

An organic molecule, part of a living organism. Includes proteins, DNA, RNA.
List of biomolecules
, Wikipedia 

carbohydrate binding proteins CBPs: Proteins
carbohydrates: Glycosciences  

chemical compound: Wikipedia 

compound:  1.A thing that is composed of two or more separate elements; a mixture.  A substance formed from two or more elements chemically united in fixed proportions.  More definitions at

glycobiology, glycoproteins, glycoscience,  glycotechnology: Glycosciences 

macromolecular complexes: It is now clear that most functions in the cell are not carried out by single protein enzymes, colliding randomly within the cellular jungle, but by macromolecular complexes containing multiple subunits with specific functions (Alberts 1998 ). Many of these complexes are described as "molecular machines." Indeed, this designation captures many of the aspects characterizing these biological complexes: modularity, complexity, cyclic function, and, in most cases, the consumption of energy. Examples of such molecular machines are the replisome, the transcriptional machinery, the spliceosome, and the ribosome. Molecular Machines: Putting the Pieces Together, Eva Nogalesa and Nikolaus GrigorieffJournal of Cell Biology, 152 (1): F1-10, January 8, 2001 

macromolecular systems: Complexes or cellular systems composed of macromolecules (proteins, DNA, RNA, polysaccharides, etc.) such as RIBONUCLEOPROTEINS, CHROMATIN, MULTIENZYME COMPLEXES and other multimeric proteins. MeSH

macromolecule (polymer molecule):  A molecule of high relative molecular mass, the structure of which essentially comprises the multiple repetition of units derived, actually or conceptually, from molecules of  low relative molecular mass. Notes: 1. In many cases, especially for synthetic polymers, a molecule can be regarded as having a high relative molecular mass if the addition or removal of one or a few of the units has a negligible effect on the molecular properties. This statement fails in the case of certain macromolecules for which the properties may be critically dependent on fine details of the molecular structure. 2. If a part or the whole of the molecule has a high relative molecular mass and essentially comprises the multiple repetition of units derived, actually or conceptually, from molecules of low relative molecular mass, it may be described as either macromolecular or polymeric, or by polymer used adjectivally. IUPAC Compendium

A general term to describe a "huge molecule." Although there is no set criteria for macromolecules, they are generally considered to be structures with over 1000 atoms. DNA and proteins are common examples of macromolecules.  Dictionary of Chemistry  Related terms: large molecules, small molecules

micromolecules: Early biochemists thought small. They knew a lot about the little molecules in the cells ... Into the nineteen- twenties and after, many biochemists doubted the reality of very large molecules, even when they were using the activity of enzymes, unpurified, as practical tools to catalyze small molecular reactions.  There was no way biochemists then could discern that the molecules in the cell are all either small or very large, with nothing between - that even small macromolecular chains are forty times or more the size of even the largest, so to speak, micromolecules. HF Judson Eighth Day if Creation, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 1996 p. 186

"Any type of molecule composed of a relatively small number of atoms. ... generally ... has a mass less than about 10 kDa. Oxford Biochemistry  Related terms: small molecules, specificity Compare macromolecules  How does this word relate (if it does) to small molecules?

mole, mol:  The mole is the amount of substance of a system which contains as many elementary entities as there are atoms in 0.012 kilogram of carbon 12. 2. When the mole is used, the elementary entities must be specified and may be atoms, molecules, ions, electrons, other particles, or specified groups of such particles.  NIST Reference on Constants, Units and Uncertainty

the unit of measurement for amount of substance in the International System of Units (SI). The unit is defined as the amount or sample of a chemical substance that contains as many constitutive particles, e.g., atomsmoleculesionselectrons, or photons, as there are atoms in 12 grams of carbon-12 (12C), the isotope of carbon with standard atomic weight 12 by definition. This number is expressed by the Avogadro constant, which has a value of approximately 6.02214076×1023 mol−1. The mole is an SI base unit, with the unit symbol mol. Wikipedia accessed 2018 Nov 8

[Bureau International de poids et mesures, SI base units, Système International d'Unités, (International System of Units)
   Narrower terms: Ultrasensitivity attomole, femtomole, picomole, yoctomole, zeptomole

molecular biology: "Molecular biology is an ambiguous terms," Crick said the first time we [he and author Horace Judson Freeman] met... "The term is used in two rather different ways. First, in a very general sense it can mean almost anything - the attempt to understand any biological problem at the level of atoms and molecules. You could talk about the molecular biology of animal behavior - and that's not so far-fetched as you might imagine,; some senior molecular biologists are getting close to that. Second there is a classical sense of the term, and this is much narrower: classical molecular biology has been concerned with the very large, long- chain biological molecules - the nucleic acids and proteins and their synthesis. Biologically, this means genes and their replication and expression, genes and the gene products. ... Several ideas underlay the classical research, Crick said, "The most basic idea is that biological information is mainly carried by the sequence of side groups on the regular backbone of a macromolecule. The genetic information is not conveyed and expressed by a large number of intricate symbols - it's not in Chinese - but in two very simple and as it were alphabetic languages. Genetically, the information is carried by nucleic acid, in the sequence of bases; but many such sequences can be translated into the other language - the amino - acid sequences of proteins - by special pieces of biochemical machinery. This machinery is rather elaborate, but the basic biological mechanisms are; nevertheless, in principle, comparatively simple, and they turn out, with minor variations, to be the same throughout nature - just as we had assumed. The simplicity and universality of these mechanisms is, I think, the main reason why molecular biology has been able to advance so rapidly. Because it is impossible to deny that molecular biology, since the discovery of the structure of DNA, has been wildly successful." HJ Freeman Eighth Day of Creation, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 1996 pp. 178-179

molecular motors: Protein based machines that are involved in or cause movement such as the rotary devices (flagellar motor and the F1 ATPase) or the devices whose movement is directed along cytoskeletal filaments (myosin, kinesin and dynein motor families). MeSH, 1999

molecular weight: See relative molecular mass. IUPAC Compendium

molecule: An electrically neutral entity consisting of more than one atom (n > 1). Rigorously, a molecule, in which n > 1 must correspond to a depression on the potential energy surface that is deep enough to confine at least one vibrational state. See also molecular entity. IUPAC Compendium 1998

A group of atoms arranged to interact in a particular way; one molecule of any substance is the smallest physical unit of that particular substance. ORD

A chemical made up of two or more atoms. The atoms in a molecule can be the same (an oxygen molecule has two oxygen atoms) or different (a water molecule has two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom). Biological molecules, such as proteins and DNA, can be made up of many thousands of atoms. CancerNet

Smallest particle of a compound that has all the chemical properties of that compound. A single atom is usually not referred to as a molecule, and ionic compounds such as common salt are not made up of molecules. Unlike ions, molecules carry no electrical charge  Related term: compounds

multimer: A protein made up of more than one peptide chain. FAO

nucleic acid: A macromolecule composed of linear sequences of nucleotides that perform several functions in living cells, e.g., the storage of genetic information and its transfer from one generation to the next DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), the expression of this information in protein synthesis (mRNA, tRNA) and may act as functional components of subcellular units such as ribosomes (rRNA).  [IUPAC Medicinal Chemistry]

Either of two kinds of molecules (DNA and RNA) formed by chains of nucleotides, that carry genetic information. NIGMS

nucleotide, nucleotides: Nucleosides with one or more phosphate groups esterified mainly to the 3'- or the 5'- position of the sugar moiety. Nucleotides found in cells are adenylic acid, guanylic acid, uridylic acid, cytidylic acid, deoxyadenylic acid, deoxyguanylic acid, deoxycytidylic acid and thymidylic acid. IUPAC Bioinorganic

The building block of DNA or RNA. Each nucleotide consists of a sugar component, a phosphate group, and an organic base. Four organic bases exist in DNA (adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine) and in RNA (adenine, cytosine, guanine, and uracil). NHLBI  Half a "rung" on the DNA ladder. 

oligo: A prefix meaning "a few" and used for compounds with a number of repeating units…The limits are not precisely defined, and in practice vary with the type of structure being considered, but are generally from 3 to 10. IUPAC Compendium 

A shortened form of oligonucleotide.

oligomer molecule: A molecule of intermediate relative molecular mass, the structure of which essentially comprises a small plurality of units derived, actually or conceptually, from molecules of lower relative molecular mass.   IUPAC Compendium 1998] Related terms: molecular weight, relative molecular mass

oligonucleotide: An oligomer resulting from a linear sequences of nucleotides. [IUPAC Medicinal Chemistry] Macromolecules composed of short sequences of nucleotides that are usually synthetically prepared and used e.g. in site directed mutagenesis.   IUPAC Bioinorganic

Up to 20 nucleotides \King, Lackie 2-10 nucleotides Oxford Biochem  Related terms: oligos, probe

oligosaccharides: Glycosciences  
peptides: Proteins

phospholipid: A fatty compound that contains phosphate. Phospholipids make up much of the outer membranes of cells and organelles. NIGMS

polymers: Compounds formed by the joining of smaller, usually repeating, units linked by covalent bonds. These compounds often form large macromolecules (e.g., polypeptides, proteins, plastics). MeSH

polypeptides: Protein categories
polysaccharides: Glycosciences 

proteins:  Naturally occurring and synthetic polypeptides having molecular weights greater than about 10,000 (the limit is not precise). IUPAC Compendium Related terms Proteins. Narrower term: peptides

purine: The bases adenine and guanine in DNA and RNA.

pyrimidine: The bases cytosine, thymine and uracil in DNA and RNA.


relative molecular mass Mr: Ratio of the mass of a molecule to the unified atomic mass unit. Sometimes called the molecular weight or relative molar mass. IUPAC Compendium

saccharides: Glycosciences 
small molecules:  Drug Discovery & Development
sugar amino acid hybrids SAAHs: Glycosciences 

supramolecular: Composed of more than one molecule, more complex than one molecule.

uracil: RNA

Biomolecules Resources
IUPAC Biotechnology] International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, Glossary for Chemists of terms used in biotechnology. Recommendations, Pure & Applied Chemistry 64 (1): 143-168, 1992. 200 + definitions. Included in IUPAC Compendium] International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, Compendium of Chemical Terminology: Recommendations, compiled by Alan D. McNaught and Andrew Wilkinson, Blackwell Science, 1997. "Gold Book" 6500+ definitions.  Does not include Glossary of Bioinorganic Chemistry (1997) or Glossary of Medicinal Chemistry (1998). 

How to look for other unfamiliar  terms

IUPAC definitions are reprinted with the permission of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry.

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