General Chemistry

Introduction to the Chemistry and Physiology of Blood

Our bodies consist of cells that are organized into many specialized organs and tissues to perform a variety of functions. Our stomachs digest food so that the nutrients contained in the food can be distributed to the rest of the body. Our lungs take in the oxygen needed by the body from the air and release carbon dioxide as a waste product. Our muscles allow the body to move. Our brains coordinate all of these (and many other) activities of the body. These processes are based upon many different chemical reactions, and the sum total of the chemical reactions in the body is known as the body's metabolism. The metabolism includes the reactions needed for normal everyday activities such as eating, sleeping, and studying. When we exercise, the metabolism increases to allow our body to cope with the increased demands and stress of exercising. All of our specialized body parts are united by their fundamental need for a particular chemical environment that will enable the body's metabolic reactions. This environment must include a supply of nutrients (e.g., sugars and vitamins, to supply the building blocks for cells and enable biochemical reactions) and oxygen (to provide energy for the body; the process of using oxygen to make the body's energy supply is described in the Chem 152 tutorial, "Energy for the Body: Oxidative Phosphorylation"), and the ability to eliminate the waste products of the body's metabolic activities. This environment is provided by bathing our body's cells in blood.

Blood is part of the body's circulatory system, and thus is continually being pumped through our bodies as long as we are alive. The blood distributes oxygen and nutrients to the many different cells in the body, carries CO2 generated by the cells to the lungs for exhalation, and carries other waste products to the kidneys and liver for processing and elimination. Many finely tuned chemical processes occur in the blood to allow the blood to carry out all of these functions and provide for the needs of the body. The tutorials in Chem 151 and 152 will describe several of these vital chemical processes, such as the release of iron in controlled amounts to the blood ("Iron Use and Storage in the Body: Ferritin and Molecular Representations" tutorial), removal of waste products from the blood ("Maintaining the Body's Chemistry: Dialysis in the Kidneys" tutorial), and the regulation of the levels of CO2 and H+ to control the pH of the blood ("Blood, Sweat, and Buffers: pH Regulation During Exercise" tutorial). In this tutorial, we will study one of the most important functions of blood, the transport of oxygen from the lungs to the other cells of the body (e.g., muscle cells) that perform metabolic functions.


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This page created by Matt Traverso, Washington University in St Louis.
© 2004, Washington University.
Materials and Information present may be reproduced for educational purposes only.

Revised: 2004-08-08