Understanding Amino Acids and Proteins

LOS ANGELES – Amino acids are organic compounds that combine to form proteins. When proteins are digested, amino acids are left. The human body requires a number of amino acids to grow and breakdown food.

Amino acids are classified into two groups:

    * Essential amino acids cannot be made by the body and must be supplied by food. These include cysteine, lysine, and tryptophan. Sources of essential amino acids include milk, cheese, eggs, certain meats, vegetables, nuts, and grains.

    * Nonessential amino acids are made by the body from the essential amino acids or normal breakdown of proteins. They include aspartic acid, glutamic acid, and glycine.

Proteins are organic molecules that are vital to the structure and function of living organisms. The underlying elements that make up all proteins include carbon (C), hydrogen (H), oxygen (O), nitrogen (N) and in some cases, sulfur (S). These elements combine to form amino acids, which are the building blocks that, when combined, make up the more complex protein compounds.

Amino acids are characterized by having a carboxyl group (—COOH) and an amino group (—NH2). In addition to the carboxyl group and the amino group, amino acids also have side chains (or ‘R groups’) that can be simple or extremely complex. It is these R groups that give each amino acid a unique chemistry (Source: Keeton).

The 20 Amino Acids

The twenty amino acids commonly found in proteins include:

    * nonpolar amino acids: glycine (gly), alanine (ala), valine (val), leucine (leu), isoleucine (ile), methionine (met), phenylalanine (phe), tryptophan (trp), and proline (pro)

    * polar amino acids: serine (ser), threonine (thr), cystein (cys), tyrosine (tyr), asparagine (asn), and glytamine (gln)

    * charged amino acids: aspartic acid (asp), glutamic acid (glu), lysine (lys), arginine (arg), and histidine (his)

The Anatomy of a Protein

Amino acids combine into small chains via chemical reactions called ‘condensation reactions’ in which the carboxyl group and the amino group bond to one another. These small chains that contain a few amino acids linked together are called polypeptide chains (the individual amino acids are called petides). Polypetide chains, in turn, combine into the more complex structures know as proteins

1 thought on “Understanding Amino Acids and Proteins

  1. Great site. A lot of useful information here. I’m sending it to some friends!

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