How Can Just a Few Elements Can Make up All Living Things?


Quick Answer

A few elements make up all living things because they combine to form a vast quantity of diverse chemical compounds. According to the Science Learning Center at New Zealand's University of Waikato, four elements are present in all living beings. These "life elements" are hydrogen, oxygen, carbon and nitrogen. Humans and other mammals also rely on 21 other elemental building blocks.

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Full Answer

The elements and compounds necessary for life are called biochemical molecules. Some are present only in tiny amounts, but they are nonetheless essential. All biochemical molecules include the four life elements.The National Earth Science Teachers' Association states that phosphorus and sulfur are also abundant in many of these molecules.

Copper is another important element in many living things. Most copper in the human body exists in the muscles, where it expedites chemical reactions that support skin health and connective tissue renewal. Iron, found in the blood, transports oxygen throughout the body. This is a critical function essential for life.

The Science Learning Center at the University of Waikato warns that inadequate levels of various biochemical compounds cause severe, potentially fatal health problems. For example, the consequences of inadequate zinc levels include infertility and damage to the immune system. It also causes skin irritation and hampers growth in children. Iron deficiency causes anemia, the symptoms of which include pallor, weakness and reduced respiratory stamina. Excessive amounts of biochemical compounds also cause serious health problems, such as permanent heart and liver damage.

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