What Are Proteins? What Do They Do?

Giving a face to the buzzword

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Photo by Jose Soriano on Unsplash

What Is a Protein?

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  • An amino acid is a naturally occurring molecule made up of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and hydrogen atoms (and sometimes sulfur). Amino acids share their core structure but vary in their “side chain” or “R group”.
  • All living organisms use the same “alphabet” of 20 standard amino acids (letter beads) to build their proteins. These are called the “proteinogenic” amino acids — in contrast to other amino acids that are never found in proteins. Each amino acid has a 3-letter and a 1-letter abbreviation. See the “alphabet” of amino acids!
  • Proteins are defined by their unique sequence of amino acids (beads). In humans, the average protein is about 350 amino acids (beads) long.
  • Some proteins are made up of many small repeating units (e.g. F-I-T-F-I-T-F-I-T… aka Phenylalanine-Isoleucine-Threonine…), while others have no repeating units and use many different amino acids (like a very long word!).
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Haemoglobin 3D representation

Fun Facts

Understanding Amino Acids

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  • Using their chemical and physical properties (e.g. charged or neutral, aromatic / ring structure or not, etc). Learn more

Why Does My Body Need Protein?

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Vitruvian Man
  1. Transport / storage (e.g. hemoglobin for carrying oxygen)
  2. Immune system (e.g. antibodies)
  3. Messengers (e.g. hormones such as insulin)
  4. Enzymes (e.g. lactase for breaking down milk sugars)

Fun Facts

Learn More

Scientist (PhD Genetics @Stanford) * Mother * Passionate about science-based healthy choices * Lifelong learner * Founder: Fueled by Science

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