Carbohydrates [α] or saccharides[β] are the most abundant of the four major classes of biomolecules. They fill numerous roles in living things, such as the storage and transport of energy (e.g., starch, glycogen) and structural components (e.g., cellulose in plants and chitin in animals). In addition, carbohydrates and their derivatives play major roles in the working process of the immune system, fertilization, pathogenesis, blood clotting, and development.
Carbohydrates make up most of the organic matter on Earth because of their extensive roles in all forms of life. First, carbohydrates serve as energy stores, fuels, and metabolic intermediates. Second, ribose and deoxyribose sugars form part of the structural framework of RNA and DNA. Third, polysaccharides are structural elements in the cell walls of bacteria and plants. In fact, cellulose, the main constituent of plant cell walls, is one of the most abundant organic compounds in the biosphere. Fourth, carbohydrates are linked to many proteins and lipids, where they play key roles in mediating interactions between cells and interactions between cells and other elements in the cellular environment.
Carbohydrates are simple organic compounds that are aldehydes or ketones with many hydroxyl groups added, usually one on each carbon atom that is not part of the aldehyde or ketone functional group. The basic carbohydrate units are called monosaccharides; examples are glucose, galactose, and fructose. The general stoichiometric formula of an unmodified monosaccharide is (C·H2O)n, where n is any number of three or greater; however, not all carbohydrates conform to this precise stoichiometric definition (e.g., uronic acids, deoxy-sugars such as fucose), nor are all chemicals that do conform to this definition automatically classified as carbohydrates.
Monosaccharides can be linked together into what are called polysaccharides (or oligosaccharides) in a large variety of ways. Many carbohydrates contain one or more modified monosaccharide units that have had one or more groups replaced or removed. For example, deoxyribose, a component of DNA, is a modified version of ribose; chitin is composed of repeating units of N-acetylglucosamine, a nitrogen-containing form of glucose.
While the scientific nomenclature of carbohydrates is complex, the names of carbohydrates very often end in the suffix -ose. Glycoinformatics is the specialised field of study that deals with the specific and unique bioinformatics of carbohydrates.