What is Hydrolysis

Hydrolysis and Dehydration Synthesis Explained

Hydrolysis is the process by which polymers are broken down into smaller components called monomers. It is more commonly known as splitting water. The polymer is broken down into two distinct entities- one part gains a hydrogen atom while the other receives a hydroxyl molecule from the disintegrated water molecule. In a hydrolysis reaction, there is a new covalent bond between the hydrogen atom and the oxygen atom.

Hydrolysis of amide:

Amides can be hydrolyzed using heat or a base catalyst. The general equation is:-

RCONH2 + heat -> RCONHR + NH3 + H2O

A base catalyst may be required for this reaction to properly- sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide. The hydrogen atom donates itself to the open oxygen on the water molecule, and a bond is formed between it with another oxygen atom of another molecule.

Hydrolysis of ester:

Esters undergo hydrolysis in the presence of a strong acid catalyst and water. The general equation for this reaction is:-

RCOOR’ + H2O -> RCOH + R’OH (where R and R’ denote alkyl or aryl groups)

A hydrogen atom from one molecule donates itself onto the oxygen atom of another molecule and forms a new covalent bond.

So, you might be wondering, what is a more practical application of hydrolysis?

A good example of hydrolysis in action is when complex carbohydrates disintegrate to form monosaccharides. Hydrolysis also occurs when amino acids are released from protein chains.

Well, hydrolysis is an important part of digestion. The food we eat is hydrolyzed into smaller parts by enzymes present in the digestive system. This breakdown facilitates easier absorption of nutrients by intestinal cells. It is also worth noting that enzymes are essential for indigestion. Carbohydrates have enzymes such as maltase, sucrase, and amylase to assist in their breakdown. On the other hand, peptidase, trypsin, and other enzymes assist in breaking down proteins while lipases break down fats.

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What is dehydration synthesis?

In simple terms, dehydration synthesis is joining molecules together while eliminating water. It involves the combining of monomers using covalent bonds to form polymers. In the process of bonding, water forms as a byproduct.

More specifically, the hydrogen atom of one monomer attaches to a hydroxyl group of another monomer to release a water molecule. Examples of dehydration synthesis are seen in the formation of a double-stranded DNA or when polymer chains attach to other molecules.

The general equation for dehydration synthesis is:-


In the dehydration synthesis reaction, a new covalent bond is formed between the oxygen atoms in both molecules, and a water molecule is ejected.

Example of Dehydration synthesis:

The degradation process that occurs when food goes stale or oxidizes is an example of dehydration synthesis. This occurs due to the exposure of fats or sugars to air, which results in their oxidation reactions. Dehydration synthesis is also responsible for the formation of dentine and pulp when exposed to extreme heat.

A more direct example is when a carbohydrate polymerizes to form a disaccharide. The chemical reaction is as follows:

C6H12O6 + C2H5OH -> C12H22O11 + H2O

What happens during this process is a molecule of water is ejected from the glycosidic bond that forms between monosaccharide molecules. This is how glucose and maltose form into maltotriose.

Now that you have a better understanding of these processes, it’s important to look at how they are essential for life.

Water is essential for life because it regulates temperature and maintains pH balance in living organisms. It contributes to the acidity or basicity of an organism by acting as either an acid or base respectively. It is also essential for transporting nutrients, regulating body temperature, eliminating waste, and keeping tissues moist.

Hence it is very important to maintain proper hydration, which means drinking enough water daily. This can be done by aiming for about 8 glasses of water a day or 2 liters.

Another important reason hydrolysis and dehydration synthesis are essential is that they allow the body to create ATP, which it needs for energy. Without enzymes, these processes would not be possible.

Adenosine triphosphate, more commonly known as ATP, is an important example of a molecule that synthesizes through dehydration. No matter what reactions it goes through, ATP tends to result in two pyrophosphate bonds. These two pyrophosphate molecules are used to power various cellular reactions by transferring an inorganic phosphate group. They also act as important sources of energy for living cells.

Enzymes are protein molecules that act as biological catalysts to speed up chemical reactions. They do this by lowering the activation energy of the reaction so it can occur faster and more efficiently.

By now, you should be familiar with the most basic distinction between hydrolysis and dehydration synthesis. However, it’s important to note that neither of these processes will go on in isolation. Instead, they tend to occur simultaneously while breaking down molecules into their constituent parts.

The overall effect is aesthetically pleasing and can be seen in many places throughout nature – crystals, soap bubbles, the formation of snowflakes, amongst others.

Are hydrolysis and dehydration same?

No, they are not the same thing, but they are very closely related. Dehydration synthesis requires the removal of a molecule of water, while hydrolysis is merely the breaking down of larger molecules into smaller components. However, there are many chemical and biological reactions where both these processes occur simultaneously and result in similar products.

What’s the difference between Hydrolysis and Dehydration Synthesis?

Hydrolysis and dehydration synthesis are two processes that take place simultaneously while water is released as the reactants break down.

As different types of bonds form between atoms, and different reactions will occur. Hydrolysis involves the joining together of small molecules, while dehydration synthesis involves the joining of nucleic acids to form molecules for long-term storage.

Significance of Hydrolysis and dehydration synthesis in nature

Hydrolysis is an important part of many chemical reactions. It’s not just limited to the process of breaking down food molecules for digestion – it plays a role in various aspects of cellular metabolism.

Hydrolases break down food molecules into smaller parts that can easily absorb the intestinal cells that line your small intestine.

Hydrolysis is also involved in releasing energy through the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate – ATP.

Finally, this process of breaking down larger molecules into smaller ones can be seen in various chemical reactions that occur in nature. One important example is the process of abiogenesis – the formation of organic compounds from inorganic matter.

There are many kinds of hydrolysis, including different hydrolytic reactions referred to as phosphorolysis and proteolysis.

Phosphorolysis refers to the hydrolytic cleavage of a phosphodiester bond, which is the linkage between two phosphate groups. This type of hydrolysis mainly occurs in carbohydrate metabolism and can break down glycogen phosphorylase to glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate and inorganic phosphate.

Proteolysis refers to the hydrolytic cleavage of peptide bonds that link amino acid residues together to form proteins. This type of hydrolysis is used in breathing, muscle contraction, blood clotting, gene expression and other types of cellular regulation.

The process involves breaking down larger proteins into their constituent amino acids, which can then be used to build new proteins.

One example of this process is the cleavage of insulin, which creates two smaller polypeptides known as intermediate-sized proteins. These intermediate proteins are then broken down further into small polypeptides by other enzymes called proteases.

Both hydrolysis and dehydration synthesis depend on enzymes to speed up these individual processes. Let’s take a look at some of the enzymes involved in digestion.

Lists of enzymes involved in hydrolysis and dehydration synthesis

Here are a few examples of enzymes that involve both processes:


A hydrolase is an enzyme that catalyzes the hydrolysis of various bonds and the cleavage of larger molecules into smaller ones. Water acts as a product of these reactions, which cause it to break up the larger molecule into parts.


A phosphodiesterase is an enzyme that catalyzes the cleavage of a phosphodiester bond, which results in the breakdown of larger compounds into smaller parts.

In carbohydrate metabolism, phosphodiesterase is used to break down glycogen phosphorylase into glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate and inorganic phosphate.


A carboxypeptidase is a type of enzyme that catalyzes the hydrolytic cleavage of a peptide bond. They are found in large quantities on the surface of intestinal membranes, where they help break down dietary proteins into shorter fragments called peptides during digestion. These smaller components can be readily absorbed by intestinal cells.

Triacylglycerol lipase:

A triacylglycerol lipase is an enzyme that catalyzes the hydrolysis of triacylglycerols into fatty acid esters and glycerol. Triacylglycerols are a common type of lipid found in plants, animals and various types of food.


An aminopeptidase is an enzyme that catalyzes the cleavage of amino acids from the amino terminus (N-terminus) of a polypeptide chain. They are found on cell membranes and work together with carboxypeptidases to break down proteins during digestion.

Significance of Hydrolysis and dehydration synthesis in medicine

Enzymes are important to degradation within organisms, but they do more than break down molecules into smaller parts. These enzymes are responsible for many essential biological processes such as digestion, muscle movement and tissue building or regeneration.

In medicine, these enzymes are useful in treating a range of diseases. Although enzymes can cause problems themselves, they have been modified to work as catalysts for other drugs that may be used in cancer treatment.

Bottom Line

In conclusion, both hydrolysis and dehydration synthesis involves a change in chemical composition to remove water molecules. Hydrolysis breaks down polymers into monomers, while dehydration synthesizes the r.3emoval of a molecule of water from an organic compound.

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