All matter, whether living or non-living, is made up of atoms; the atom is the smallest unit of matter capable of entering into a chemical reaction. Atoms can combine together by bonding, to form molecules, which range from the small and simple to the large and complex. The latter are known as macromolecules; major cellular constituents such as carbohydrates and proteins belong to this group and it is with these that this chapter is mainly concerned (Table 2.1). In order to appreciate how these macromolecules operate in the structure and function of microbial cells however, we need to review the basic principles of how atoms are constructed and how they interact with one other.
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