Two of the main functions of carbohydrates are energy storage and providing structure. One of the common sugars known as glucose is carbohydrate, but not all carbohydrates are sugars. There are more carbohydrates on Earth than any other known type of biomolecule; they are used to store energy and genetic information, as well as play important roles in cell to cell interactions and communications.
The simplest type of carbohydrate is a monosaccharide, which among other properties contains carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, mostly in a ratio of 1:2:1 (generalized formula CnH2nOn, where n is at least 3). Glucose (C6H12O6) is one of the most important carbohydrates; others include fructose (C6H12O6), the sugar commonly associated with the sweet taste of fruits,[a] and deoxyribose (C5H10O4), a component of DNA. A monosaccharide can switch between acyclic (open-chain) form and a cyclic form. The open-chain form can be turned into a ring of carbon atoms bridged by an oxygen atom created from the carbonyl group of one end and the hydroxyl group of another. The cyclic molecule has a hemiacetal or hemiketal group, depending on whether the linear form was an aldose or a ketose.
In these cyclic forms, the ring usually has 5 or 6 atoms. These forms are called furanoses and pyranoses, respectively—by analogy with furan and pyran, the simplest compounds with the same carbon-oxygen ring (although they lack the carbon-carbon double bonds of these two molecules). For example, the aldohexose glucose may form a hemiacetal linkage between the hydroxyl on carbon 1 and the oxygen on carbon 4, yielding a molecule with a 5-membered ring, called glucofuranose. The same reaction can take place between carbons 1 and 5 to form a molecule with a 6-membered ring, called glucopyranose. Cyclic forms with a 7-atom ring called heptoses are rare.
Two monosaccharides can be joined together by a glycosidic or ether bond into a disaccharide through a dehydration reaction during which a molecule of water is released. The reverse reaction in which the glycosidic bond of a disaccharide is broken into two monosaccharides is termed hydrolysis. The best-known disaccharide is sucrose or ordinary sugar, which consists of a glucose molecule and a fructose molecule joined together. Another important disaccharide is lactose found in milk, consisting of a glucose molecule and a galactose molecule. Lactose may be hydrolysed by lactase, and deficiency in this enzyme results in lactose intolerance.
When a few (around three to six) monosaccharides are joined, it is called an oligosaccharide (oligo- meaning "few"). These molecules tend to be used as markers and signals, as well as having some other uses. Many monosaccharides joined together form a polysaccharide. They can be joined together in one long linear chain, or they may be branched. Two of the most common polysaccharides are cellulose and glycogen, both consisting of repeating glucose monomers. Cellulose is an important structural component of plant's cell walls and glycogen is used as a form of energy storage in animals.
Sugar can be characterized by having reducing or non-reducing ends. A reducing end of a carbohydrate is a carbon atom that can be in equilibrium with the open-chain aldehyde (aldose) or keto form (ketose). If the joining of monomers takes place at such a carbon atom, the free hydroxy group of the pyranose or furanose form is exchanged with an OH-side-chain of another sugar, yielding a full acetal. This prevents opening of the chain to the aldehyde or keto form and renders the modified residue non-reducing. Lactose contains a reducing end at its glucose moiety, whereas the galactose moiety forms a full acetal with the C4-OH group of glucose. Saccharose does not have a reducing end because of full acetal formation between the aldehyde carbon of glucose (C1) and the keto carbon of fructose (C2).