Understanding The Chemical Properties Of Proteins, Amino Acids And Peptides

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Before you carry out further research on peptides it is essential to know the fundamentals of proteins, the macro molecules on which peptides are based on.

Proteins are one of the fundamental building blocks of our body and occur in all living cells. There are several types of proteins that occur in nature and a single cell may even contain several types of protein molecules. Each type of protein molecule in our body performs a different type of function. They are the essential elements in passing genetic information of our body to successive generations. So if you are planning to study the macro molecules in our body, the study of proteins is the ideal place to start. The English word protein is derived from the Greek word “Protos” which translates to “Foremost” or “First”.

When we look into the composition of proteins, we find that regardless of the type of proteins, they all have similar structure. Right from proteins derived from unicellular bacteria to highly complex forms of proteins, all of them have the same set of amino acids linked together in a linear structure. The set of 20 amino acids that are found in all types of proteins have uniquely different chemical properties that distinguish them. Hence these 20 basic amino acids can be considered as the alphabets that define and distinguish the properties and types of proteins.

To define it simply, proteins are molecules formed by amino acids joined together with a covalent bond. However, the type and property of a particular form of protein is determined by the different permutations and combinations of the basic 20 amino acids that are joined together. It is amazing how the different combinations of the same amino acids form different types of substances such as enzymes, hormones, milk proteins, spider webs, hair, feather, skin cells, horns, antibodies, poisons found in mushrooms and innumerable other natural substances.

In 1806, the first amino acid that constituted protein was discovered and isolated. The last of the twenty amino acids that formed proteins was discovered only in the year 1938. This amino acid which was discovered last was named as threonine. Scientists have named all the 20 amino acids with a scientific name as well as a common name. The common name is mostly named after the product from which the amino acid was initially identified and isolated. For example, the amino acid Asparagines was initially found in asparagus. Likewise you can easily guess the compound from which glutamate was initially isolated. Yes it was found in wheat gluten. Common names for amino acids help in easy identification and differentiation of the various amino acids. The amino acid tyrosine was isolated first from cheese hence the Greek word for Cheese “Tyros” was used to name this amino acid. Similarly the amino acid “Glycine” was named because of its sweet taste.
With a clear understanding of proteins and amino acids, you can carry out further research on peptides and their properties.