What Is a Carbon Skeleton?


Carbon is an element that is the main building block of all living things, including plants, invertebrates and vertebrates. A carbon skeleton is a linkage or chain of carbon atoms.

Carbon Skeleton

  • As the name implies, a carbon skeleton is the internal structure of organic molecules. There are variations in the skeletal structure of carbon atoms, which creates a diverse range of molecules.

Carbon Arrangements

  • The arrangement of carbon atoms in the skeleton varies from a straight line of atoms to branching formations to circular arrangements. Other atoms such as hydrogen or oxygen can bind to the carbon atoms to create molecules.

Amino Acids

  • When amino acids are removed during the metabolic cycle, the original carbon skeleton remains. The carbon skeleton, stripped of the amino acids, then is free to enter another metabolic cycle to pick up new atoms.

Energy Production

  • If the cells require additional energy during the metabolic cycles, the carbon skeleton can be utilized. Oxygen is bound to the carbon atoms, in a process called oxidation, to form a water molecule, H2O, and carbon dioxide, CO2.


  • Catabolism is the process in which molecules are broken down into constituent parts, whether to create hormones, enzymes or energy. In catabolism, the remaining product is the carbon skeleton.

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  • Photo Credit Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Paul Friel
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