Probably most commonly known as the main substance found in urine, urea is an organic compound which occurs naturally but which can also be entirely artificially synthesised in laboratory conditions.
It consists of two nitrogen/hydrogen combinations joined by a carbon/oxygen bond to give the formula CO(NH)2. Urea is highly soluble, which not only makes it easy for the body to excrete, but also enables it to work well in many useful solutions. It also has the interesting property of its molecules having comparatively wide spaces between them, which enable it to “catch” molecules from other chemical compounds. This characteristic is one of the reasons it has a wide industrial use.
The Organic Nature of Urea
In common with other naturally occurring compounds such as citric acid, salicylic acid and benzoic acid, urea has been found to be of great benefit in industry, as well as performing an important physiological role in allowing the straight-forward excretion of excess nitrogen. The relatively large amount of nitrogen in urea results in it being widely used as a fertiliser, as its nitrogen dense properties mean it is cost effective to transport and distribute, giving maximal nutritive benefits to plants in relatively small volume. Its nitrogenous properties also play a part in its value as one of the precursors of barbituric acid, which in turn is used to form widely used barbiturate pharmaceutical drugs.
The Versatility of Carbon Based Compounds Such as Urea
One of the reasons why carbon based compounds such as urea or methane are so plentiful and have such a multitude of uses is the high valence of the carbon atom. Carbon has four electrons available in every atom for bonding, meaning that there are numerous possibilities for single or double bonds with a wide range of other elements (but particularly hydrogen and oxygen) to be formed. This can be demonstrated in urea, which is capable of being synthesised to produce a large selection of new compounds due to the bonding properties of its carbon atom. The adaptability of organic compounds to new permutations is so great that a special branch of chemistry (organic chemistry) is devoted to studying and understanding how such materials can be developed and utilised.
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