What Chemical Elements Make up the Human Body?
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The Elemental Composition of the Human Body

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The Elemental Composition of a Human Body

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The human body is a miraculous, well-oiled, and exceptionally complex machine. It requires a multitude of functioning parts to come together for a person to live a healthy life—and every biological detail in our bodies, from the mundane to the most magical, is driven by just 21 chemical elements.

Of the 118 elements on Earth, just 21 of them are found in the human body. Together, they make up the medley of divergent molecules that combine to form our DNA, cells, tissues, and organs.

Based on data presented by the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP), in the above infographic, we have broken down a human body to its elemental composition and the percentages in which they exist.

These 21 elements can be categorized into three major blocks depending on the amount found in a human body, the main building block (4 elements), essential minerals (8 elements), and trace elements (9 elements).

The Elemental Four: Ingredients for Life

Four elements, namely, oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen, are considered the most essential elements found in our body.

Oxygen is the most abundant element in the human body, accounting for approximately 61% of a person’s mass. Given that around 60-70% of the body is water, it is no surprise that oxygen and hydrogen are two of the body’s most abundantly found chemical elements. Along with carbon and nitrogen, these elements combine for 96% of the body’s mass.

Here is a look at the composition of the four elements of life:

ElementWeight of Body Mass (kg)Percentage of Body Mass (%)
Oxygen43 kg61.4%
Carbon16 kg22.9%
Hydrogen7.0 kg10.0%
Nitrogen1.8 kg2.6%

Values are for an average human body weighing 70 kg.

Let’s take a look at how each of these four chemical elements contributes to the thriving functionality of our body:

Oxygen

Oxygen plays a critical role in the body’s metabolism, respiration, and cellular oxygenation. Oxygen is also found in every significant organic molecule in the body, including proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and nucleic acids. It is a substantial component of everything from our cells and blood to our cerebral and spinal fluid.

Carbon

Carbon is the most crucial structural element and the reason we are known as carbon-based life forms. It is the basic building block required to form proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Breaking carbon bonds in carbohydrates and proteins is our primary energy source.

Hydrogen

Hydrogen, the most abundantly found chemical element in the universe, is present in all bodily fluids, allowing the toxins and waste to be transported and eliminated. With the help of hydrogen, joints in our body remain lubricated and able to perform their functions. Hydrogen is also said to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, helping improve muscle function.

Nitrogen

An essential component of amino acids used to build peptides and proteins is nitrogen. It is also an integral component of the nucleic acids DNA and RNA, the chemical backbone of our genetic information and genealogy.

Essential and Supplemental Minerals

Essential minerals are important for your body to stay healthy. Your body uses minerals for several processes, including keeping your bones, muscles, heart, and brain working properly. Minerals also control beneficial enzyme and hormone production.

Minerals like calcium are a significant component of our bones and are required for bone growth and development, along with muscle contractions. Phosphorus contributes to bone and tooth strength and is vital to metabolizing energy.

Here is a look at the elemental composition of essential minerals:

ElementWeight of Body Mass (g)Percentage of Body Mass (%)
Calcium1000 g1.43%
Phosphorus780 g 1.11%
Potassium140 g0.20%
Sulphur140 g0.20%
Chlorine100 g0.14%
Sodium95 g0.14%
Magnesium19 g0.03%
Iron4.2 g0.01%

Values are for an average human body weighing 70 kg.

Other macro-minerals like magnesium, potassium, iron, and sodium are essential for cell-to-cell communications, like electric transmissions that generate nerve impulses or heart rhythms, and are necessary for maintaining thyroid and bone health.

Excessive deficiency of any of these minerals can cause various disorders in your body. Most humans receive these minerals as a part of their daily diet, including vegetables, meat, legumes, and fruits. In case of deficiencies, though, these minerals are also prescribed as supplements.

Biological Composition of Trace Elements

Trace elements or trace metals are small amounts of minerals found in living tissues. Some of them are known to be nutritionally essential, while others may be considered to be nonessential. They are usually in minimal quantities in our body and make up only 1% of our mass.

Paramount among these are trace elements such as zinc, copper, manganese, and fluorine. Zinc works as a first responder against infections and thereby improves infection resistance, while balancing the immune response.

Here is the distribution of trace elements in our body:

ElementWeight of Body Mass (mg)Percentage of Body Mass (%)
Fluorine2600 mg0.00371%
Zinc2300 mg0.00328%
Copper72 mg0.00010%
Iodine13 mg0.00002%
Manganese12 mg0.00002%
Molybdenum9.5 mg0.00001%
Selenium8 mg0.00001%
Chromium6.6 mg0.00001%
Cobalt1.5 mg0.000002%

Values are for an average human body weighing 70 kg.

Even though only it’s found in trace quantities, copper is instrumental in forming red blood cells and keeping nerve cells healthy. It also helps form collagen, a crucial part of bones and connective tissue.

Even with constant research and studies performed to thoroughly understand these trace elements’ uses and benefits, scientists and researchers are constantly making new discoveries.

For example, recent research shows that some of these trace elements could be used to cure and fight chronic and debilitating diseases ranging from ischemia to cancer, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension.

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Visualizing the Evolution of Vision and the Eye

The eye is one of the most complex organs in biology. We illustrate its evolution from a simple photoreceptor cell to a complex structure.

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Roadmapping the Evolution of the Eye

Throughout history, numerous creatures have evolved increasingly complex eyes in response to different selective pressures.

Not all organisms, however, experience the same pressures. It’s why some creatures today still have eyes that are quite simple, or why some have no eyes at all. These organisms exemplify eyes that are “frozen” in time. They provide snapshots of the past, or “checkpoints” of how the eye has transformed throughout its evolutionary journey.

Scientists study the genes, anatomy, and vision of these creatures to figure out a roadmap of how the eye came to be. And so, we put together an evolutionary graphic timeline of the eye’s different stages using several candidate species.

Let’s take a look at how the eye has formed throughout time.

Where Vision Comes From

The retina is a layer of nerve tissue, often at the back of the eye, that is sensitive to light.

When light hits it, specialized cells called photoreceptors transform light energy into electrical signals and send them to the brain. Then the brain processes these electrical signals into images, creating vision.

The earliest form of vision arose in unicellular organisms. Containing simple nerve cells that can only distinguish light from dark, they are the most common eye in existence today.

The ability to detect shapes, direction, and color comes from all of the add-ons evolution introduces to these cells.

Two Major Types of Eyes

Two major eye types are dominant across species. Despite having different shapes or specialized parts, improved vision in both eye types is a product of small, gradual changes that optimize the physics of light.

Simple Eyes

Simple eyes are actually quite complex, but get their name because they consist of one individual unit.

Some mollusks and all of the higher vertebrates, like birds, reptiles, or humans, have simple eyes.

Grid of photos showing examples of simple eyes in the animal kingdom

Simple eyes evolved from a pigment cup, slowly folding inwards with time into the shape we recognize today. Specialized structures like the lens, cornea, and pupil arose to help improve the focus of light on the retina. This helps create sharper, clearer images for the brain to process.

Simple eye evolution

Compound Eyes

Compound eyes are formed by repeating the same basic units of photoreceptors called ommatidia. Each ommatidium is similar to a simple eye, composed of lenses and photoreceptors.

Grouped together, ommatidia form a geodesic pattern that is commonly seen in insects and crustaceans.

Grid of photos showing examples of compound eyes in the animal kingdom

Our understanding of the evolution of the compound eye is a bit murky, but we know that rudimentary ommatidia evolved into larger, grouped structures that maximize light capture.

compound eye evolution

In environments like caves, the deep subsurface, or the ocean floor where little to no light exists, compound eyes are useful for producing vision that gives even the slightest advantage over other species.

How Will Vision Evolve?

Our increasing dependency on technology and digital devices may be ushering in the advent of a new eye shape.

The muscles around the eye stretch to shift the lens when staring at something close by. The eye’s round shape elongates in response to this muscle strain.

Screen time with cellphones, tablets, and computers has risen dramatically over the years, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent studies are already reporting rises in childhood myopia, the inability to see far away. Since the pandemic, cases have increased by 17%, affecting almost 37% of schoolchildren.

Other evolutionary opportunities for our eyes are currently less obvious. It remains to be seen whether advanced corrective therapies, like corneal transplants or visual prosthetics, will have any long-term evolutionary impact on the eye.

For now, colored contacts and wearable tech may be our peek into the future of vision.

Complete Sources

Fernald, Russell D. “Casting a Genetic Light on the Evolution of Eyes.” Science, vol. 313, no. 5795, 29 Sept. 2006, pp. 1914–1918

Gehring, W. J. “New Perspectives on Eye Development and the Evolution of Eyes and Photoreceptors.” Journal of Heredity, vol. 96, no. 3, 13 Jan. 2005, pp. 171–184. Accessed 18 Dec. 2019.

The Evolution of Sight | PHOS.”

Land, Michael F, and Dan-Eric Nilsson. Animal Eyes. Oxford ; New York, Oxford University Press, 2002.

“The Major Topics of the Research Work of Prof. Dan-E. Nilsson: Vision-Research.eu – the Gateway to European Vision Research.” Accessed 3 Oct. 2022.

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Science

Visualizing the Composition of Blood

Despite its simple appearance, blood is made up of many microscopic elements. This infographic visualizes the composition of blood.

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composition of blood

The Composition of Blood

Have you ever wondered what blood is made up of?

With the average adult possessing five to six liters of blood in the body, this fluid is vital to our lives, circulating oxygen through the body and serving many different functions.

Despite its simple, deep-red appearance, blood is comprised of many tiny chemical components. This infographic visualizes the composition of blood and the microscopic contents in it.

What is Blood Made Up Of?

There are two main components that comprise blood:

  • Plasma – 55%
    Plasma is the fluid or aqueous part of blood, making up more than half of blood content.
  • Formed elements – 45%
    Formed elements refer to the cells, platelets, and cell fragments that are suspended in the plasma.

Plasma

Plasma is primarily made up of water (91%), salts, and enzymes, but it also carries important proteins and components that serve many bodily functions.

Plasma proteins make up 7% of plasma contents and are created in the liver. These include:

  • Albumins
    These proteins keep fluids from leaking out of blood vessels into other parts of the body. They also transport important molecules like calcium and help neutralize toxins.
  • Globulins
    These play an important role in clotting blood and fighting infections and are also transporters of hormones, minerals, and fats.
  • Fibrinogen and Prothrombin
    Both of these proteins help stop bleeding by facilitating the creation of blood clots during wound-healing.

Water and proteins make up 98% of plasma in blood. The other 2% is made up of small traces of chemical byproducts and cellular waste, including electrolytes, glucose, and other nutrients.

Formed Elements

There are three categories of formed elements in blood: platelets, white blood cells, and red blood cells. Red blood cells make up 99% of formed elements, with the other 1% comprised of platelets and white blood cells.

  • Platelets (Thrombocytes)
    Platelets are cells from the immune system with the primary function of forming clots to reduce bleeding from wounds. This makes them critical not only for small wounds like cuts but also for surgeries and traumatic injuries.
  • White blood cells (Leukocytes)
    White blood cells protect our bodies from infection. There are five types of white blood cells with different roles in fighting infections: some attack foreign cells and viruses, some produce antibodies, some clean up dead cells, and some respond to allergens.
  • Red blood cells (Erythrocytes)
    Red blood cells deliver fresh oxygen and nutrients all over the body. They contain a special protein called hemoglobin, which carries oxygen and gives blood its bright red color.

The lifespan of a typical red blood cell is around 120 days, after which it dies and is replaced by a new cell. Our bodies are constantly producing red blood cells in the bone marrow, at a rate of millions of cells per second.

Abnormal Red Blood Cells

Normal red blood cells are round, flattened disks that are thinner in the middle. However, certain diseases and medical therapies can change the shape of red blood cells in different ways.

Here are the types of abnormal red blood cells and their associated diseases:

composition of blood

Sickle cell anemia is a well-known disease that affects the shape of red blood cells. Unlike normal, round red blood cells, cells associated with sickle cell disease are crescent- or sickle-shaped, which can slow and block blood flow.

Other common causes of abnormally shaped red blood cells are thalassemia, hereditary blood disorders, iron deficiency anemia, and liver disease. Identifying abnormal blood cells plays an important role in diagnosing the underlying causes and in finding treatments.

The Functions of Blood

We know that blood is vital, but what does it actually do in the body?

For starters, here are some of the functions of blood:

  • Blood transports oxygen to different parts of the body, providing an energy source. It also delivers carbon dioxide to the lungs for exhalation.
  • The platelets, white blood cells, and plasma proteins in blood play an important role in fighting infections and clotting.
  • Blood transports the body’s waste products to the kidneys and liver, which filter it and recirculate clean blood.
  • Blood helps regulate the body’s internal temperature by absorbing and distributing heat throughout the body.

While we all know that we can’t live without blood, it serves many different functions in the body that we often don’t notice. For humans and many other organisms alike, blood is an integral component that keeps us alive and going.

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