Define Carbon Skeleton

Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.
••• Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images

Life as we know it is carbon-based. A carbon skeleton is the chain of carbon atoms that forms the “backbone,” or foundation, of any organic molecule. Because of carbon’s unique ability to form large, diverse and stable compounds, life would not be possible without carbon.

Covalent Bonds

A covalent bond forms when two atoms share electrons or negatively charged sub-atomic particles. The number of covalent bonds any atom can form is related to the number of electrons in the outer shell.


Carbon has four electrons in its outer shell and can form four covalent bonds. This allows carbon to form large, diverse molecules.


There are four types of macromolecules, or large organic molecules, necessary for life to function: protein, lipids, carbohydrates and nucleic acids. All four macromolecules are based on a carbon skeleton.

Functional Groups

When chains of carbon atoms are bonded to form a carbon skeleton, the types of chemical functional groups attached to that skeleton determine what kind of macromolecule will result.


Carbon is ubiquitous in nature. There are almost ten million known carbon compounds. Hydrocarbons (carbon and hydrogen chains) are the foundation of the fossil fuels coal, petroleum and natural gas. Carbon is found in carbon dioxide gas, diamonds, graphite and fullerines.

Related Articles

Similarities of Silicon & Carbon
What Is the Origin of the Name of Carbon?
What Are the Three Common Categories of Lipids?
What Are the Monomers of Triglycerides?
What Are the Atoms That Make Up Lipids?
What Elements Make Up Glucose?
What Are Some Items Made of Carbon?
Why Is the Periodic Table Arranged in Columns & Rows?
Facts About Lipids
How to Find the Number of Unshared Electrons
What Are the Major Chemical Elements Found in Cells...
About Minor & Major Landforms
What Elements Make Up the Compound Carbon Dioxide?
Role of Algae in the Ecosystem
Why Are Lipids Insoluble in Water?
Examples of Elements Without a Stable Electron Configuration
What Are Three Main Elements Comprising the Structure...
What Are the Chemical Names of the Four Macromolecules?
What Does Chemical Analysis Reveal About DNA?
What Elements Are Found in Lipids?