CIE A Level Biology (9700) 2019-2021

Revision Notes

2.3.8 The Role of Water in Living Organisms

Water Molecules: In Living Organisms

  • Water has many essential roles in living organisms due to its properties:
    • The polarity of water molecules
    • The presence and number of hydrogen bonds between water molecules


  • As water is a polar molecule many ions (e.g. sodium chloride) and covalently bonded polar substances (e.g. glucose) will dissolve in it
    • This allows chemical reactions to occur within cells (as the dissolved solutes are more chemically reactive when they are free to move about)
    • Metabolites can be transported efficiently (except non-polar molecules which are hydrophobic)

Water is a solvent, downloadable AS & A Level Biology revision notes
Due to its polarity water is considered a universal solvent

High specific heat capacity

  • The specific heat capacity of a substance is the amount of thermal energy required to raise the temperature of 1kg of that substance by 1°C. Water’s specific heat capacity is 4200 J/kg°C
  • The high specific heat capacity is due to the many hydrogen bonds present in water. It takes a lot of thermal energy to break these bonds and a lot of energy to build them, thus the temperature of water does not fluctuate greatly
  • The advantage for living organisms is that it:
    • Provides suitable habitats
    • Allows for constant temperatures within bodies and cells to be maintained (this ensures enzymes have the optimal temperatures)
      • This is because a large increase in energy is needed to increase the temperature of water

Latent heat of vaporisation

  • In order to change state (from liquid to gas) a large amount of thermal energy must be absorbed by water to break the hydrogen bonds and evaporate
  • This is an advantage for living organisms as only a little water is required to evaporate for the organism to lose a great amount of heat
  • This provides a cooling effect for living organisms, for example the transpiration from leaves or evaporation of water in sweat on the skin

Properties of water & its role in living organisms table

Water molecules_ In living organisms, downloadable AS & A Level Biology revision notes

Exam Tip

When discussing the role water has in living organisms remember to mention the ‘why’ in relation to its properties (ie. it is an excellent solvent due to the polar nature of water molecules).

Author: Catherine

Cate has over 20 years’ experience teaching Biology to IGCSE, IB and A-level students in seven different countries across Asia, Europe, North America and the Middle East. This has given her a fine appreciation of different cultures, places and teaching methods. Cate has a keen interest in producing Biology revision resources that will help students engage with the subject.

Join Save My Exams

Download all our Revision Notes as PDFs

Try a Free Sample of our revision notes as a printable PDF.

Join Now
Go to Top