Encyclopedia of Astrobiology

Living Edition
| Editors: Muriel Gargaud, William M. Irvine, Ricardo Amils, Henderson James Cleaves, Daniele Pinti, José Cernicharo Quintanilla, Michel Viso

Organic Molecule

  • Henderson James (Jim) CleavesII
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-27833-4_1124-3


An organic molecule is any member of a large class of molecules containing carbon, and then limited by a number of somewhat arbitrary restrictions. For historical reasons, a strict definition of an organic molecule is difficult. The word “organic” dates back to the ancient Greeks. For centuries, many in the West believed in the concept of vitalism: that certain “organic” compounds could only be synthesized by the action of a vital “life-force” possessed only by living organisms. This implied that “organic” compounds were fundamentally different from the “inorganic” compounds that could be obtained by laboratory manipulation.


The first well-documented experimental synthesis of an “organic compound” occurred in 1828 when Wöhler synthesized ureafrom the “inorganic” compounds potassium cyanate and ammonium sulfate. Urea had been considered an “organic” compound, as it was only known to occur in the urine of living organisms. Since then, many thousands of biological...


Organic Compound Bioorganic Chemistry Organic Molecule Large Class Living Organism 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Geophysical LaboratoryCarnegie Institution of WashingtonWashingtonUSA