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A class of simple sugars containing a chain of 3–10 carbon atoms in the molecule, known as polyhydroxy aldehydes (aldoses) or ketones (ketoses). They are very soluble in water, sparingly soluble in ethanol, and insoluble in ether. The number of monosaccharides known is approximately 70, of which about 20 occur in nature. The remainder are synthetic. The existence of such a large number of compounds is due to the presence of asymmetric carbon atoms in the molecules. Aldohexoses, for example, which include the important sugar glucose, contain no less than four asymmetric atoms, each of which may be present in either d or l configuration. The number of stereoisomers rapidly increases with each additional asymmetric carbon atom.
A list of the best-known monosaccharides is given below:
Aldose monosaccharides having 8, 9, and 10 carbon atoms in their chains have been synthesized. See Carbohydrate