The acronym CHNOPS, which stands for carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur, represents the six most important chemical elements whose covalent combinations make up most biological molecules on Earth. Sulfur is used in the amino acids cysteine and methionine. Phosphorus is an essential element in the formation of phospholipids, a class of lipids that are a major component of all cell membranes, as they can form lipid bilayers, which keep ions, proteins, and other molecules where they are needed for cell function, and prevent them from diffusing into areas where they should not be. Phosphate groups are also an essential component of the backbone of nucleic acids.
Carbonaceous asteroids are rich in CHON elements. These asteroids are the most common type, and frequently collide with Earth as meteorites. Such collisions were especially common early in Earth's history, and these impactors may have been crucial in the formation of the planet's oceans.
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- Education (2010). "CHNOPS: The Six Most Abundant Elements of Life". Pearson Education. Pearson BioCoach. Retrieved 2010-12-10. "Most biological molecules are made from covalent combinations of six important elements, whose chemical symbols are CHNOPS. ... Although more than 25 types of elements can be found in biomolecules, six elements are most common. These are called the CHNOPS elements; the letters stand for the chemical abbreviations of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur."
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