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What are Proteins and Amino Acids Exactly?

Published 6 months ago at 12 Nov 2020 by Alexandra Soare

Many think proteins only constitute muscles, but in reality, they are so much more! Insulin? A protein. Antibodies? Proteins. The protein that cuts other proteins? Well, you guessed it!

So let’s just dive into their world by using the “house metaphor”. And no, I am not referring to Dr. House.

The house

Imagine WOOD as the main material for building and maintaining your house. Every woodworker will tell you that specific trees have better purposes according to their function. Birch is best used for burning, Red Oak is marvelous for structure and Fraser Fir lasts the longest in storage.

The same happens with our Macronutrients: 

  • Carbohydrates are the best for “burning” energy;
  • Fats are exceptional for storage;
  • Proteins are champions in structures!

Three macronutrient roles

Why are proteins used for structure?

In order to build our house, we need a material that is flexible and can be combined in different ways. That is why for our house we will use a series of 20–22 amino acids. Like Lego pieces, each amino acid has a unique form that can be combined to form proteins.

combination of aminoacids = protein

9 essential amino acids examples

What's so special about amino acids?

No matter which amino acids you pick, you will always have an amino group and carboxylic acid group (that’s the reason for the name: amino acid). What’s special about these two groups is that they make the molecule react both as an acid and as a base. Which is a big deal if you want to be flexible!

Amino and acid side in proteins

Sidechain that is unique too

All amino acids are the same in their core, except for the sidechain! Imagine having a hammer and a knife. Technically they have the same handle, however, the “sidechain” is different which is great! This way amino acids can combine and specialize in different tasks.

Unique aminoacids side chains

Curiosities

The biggest combination possible is 34,350 amino acids. This giant protein Titin is responsible for muscle elasticity. It is also known because its official scientifical name is the longest word in English with 189,819 letters and takes around four hours to pronounce correctly.

The smallest combination is 44 amino acids. This is a protein that can code a small part of mRNA. As you can see, proteins can cover a whole variety of functions.

Biggest and smallest protein

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