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Differences Between Alpha and Beta Glucose

Alpha vs Beta Glucose

Encountering the term “glucose” makes us think of something sweet, which is, of course, true. If you remember what you studied during your biology or chemistry class, glucose is a form of carbohydrate; and carbohydrates give us the energy we need throughout the day. For us humans, glucose is considered the most important, simple sugar because it is a very essential factor in our metabolism.

Though glucose is called a simple sugar, its chemistry is really complex. Glucose, which is oftentimes referred to as dextrose, is made up of 6 carbon atoms, 12 hydrogen atoms, and 6 oxygen atoms. When combined, it can take the form of a variety of arrangements; thus isomers are born. Among the first two isomers that chemists discovered were the alpha glucose and the beta glucose. Both fall under the category of glucose, but what are the differences between these two?

If we are to compare their chemical structures, alpha glucose and beta glucose only differ in the way each carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms are attached to one another. Though they have the same chemical composition, the way their atoms combine gives you two different structures. If we are to describe the molecules present in the alpha glucose, they are compressed but can be easily taken apart. On the other hand, the beta glucose molecules are solidly packed; hence, they cannot be easily taken apart. In other words, the molecules of beta glucose are very stable.

Chains of alpha glucose compose starch. Since the foundation of starch is alpha glucose, it can be easily broken down into simple sugars. Meanwhile, chains of beta glucose compose cellulose. Unlike starch, cellulose is not easy to break down; hence it is a perfect, building material. The tasty parts of plants are composed of starch while the hard parts of plants are made of cellulose.

Since plants are our main sources for glucose, which comes in the form of starch and cellulose, we depend greatly on them. For plants to store sugar, they need chains of alpha glucose to build starch. For plants to build structural material, they need chains of beta glucose to create cellulose. Humans have the capacity to break down starch while we cannot break down cellulose. Though this is the situation, cellulose is still important in our body system because cellulose is otherwise known as fiber. Fiber plays an important role in our digestive system. There are animals which can digest cellulose, specifically livestock animals such as horses, and cows. Termites can also break down the strong, structural form of cellulose.

Summary:

  1. Alpha glucose and beta glucose were among the first isomers discovered by chemists. Both are important forms of glucose which are essential in human metabolism.

  2. Alpha glucose and beta glucose both have the same number of carbon atoms, hydrogen atoms, and oxygen atoms. However, when these atoms are formed as molecules, they are arranged into two, different, structural compounds.

  3. Alpha glucose is compact, yet its molecules can be easily taken apart. On the other hand, the molecules of beta glucose are very stable; hence they cannot be easily taken apart.

  4. Starch is made up of chains of alpha glucose while cellulose, or fiber, is made up of chains of beta glucose.

  5. The tasty parts of the plants are usually made up of chains of alpha glucose while the hard parts of plants are usually made up of chains of beta glucose. Humans can easily digest starch, but we cannot digest cellulose or fiber. Though this is the situation, cellulose or fiber can still improve the function of our digestive system.

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