Urea (Molecule of the Month for October 2015)
Urea was discovered by Hilaire Rouelle in 1773. It was the first organic compound to be artificially synthesized from inorganic starting materials, in 1828 by Friedrich Woehler, who prepared it by the reaction of potassium cyanate with ammonium sulfate. Although Woehler was attempting to prepare ammonium cyanate, by forming urea, he inadvertently disproved vitalism, the theory that the chemicals of living organisms are fundamentally different from inanimate matter, thus starting the discipline of organic chemistry.
The individual atoms that make up a urea molecule come from carbon dioxide, water, aspartate and ammonia in a metabolic pathway known as the urea cycle, an anabolic process. This expenditure of energy is necessary because ammonia, a common metabolic waste product, is toxic and must be neutralized. Urea production occurs in the liver and is under the regulatory control of N-acetylglutamate.
Most organisms have to deal with the excretion of nitrogen waste originating from protein and amino acid catabolism. In aquatic organisms the most common form of nitrogen waste is ammonia, while land-dwelling organisms convert the toxic ammonia to either urea or uric acid. Generally, birds and saurian reptiles excrete uric acid, while the remaining species, including mammals, excrete urea.
Formal Chemical Name (IUPAC)
Update by Karl Harrison
(Molecule of the Month for October 2015 )