Introduction to Protein: Characteristics with Structures

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The word protein refers to a type of molecule in food that can be broken down into amino acids. They are biochemical compounds consisting of one or more polypeptides typically folded into a globular or fibrous form, facilitating a biological function. Protein accounts on average about 1/4th to 1/3rd of the total dry weight of any living organisms. They are considered as the working molecules of the cells.

Proteins were first described by the Dutch chemist Geradus Johannes Muller and named by Swedish chemist Jons Jacob Berzelius in 1838.

Characteristics of protein

  • Proteins are high molecular weight compounds. They have a molecular weight of 5 to 300 kilo daltons (1 kilo Dalton = 1.67 * 10-21 gram).
  • They are made of several amino acids. Typically 20 different amino acids synthesize all the necessary proteins. Note that, a protein doesn’t necessarily require all of the 20 amino acids for it’s formation.
  • The backbone of all protein molecules is made up of linear chain of polypeptide, which are made up of amino acids.
  • Proteins are colorless and tasteless (except serine which is sweet).
  • The number of amino acid in the polypeptide and thus in the protein may vary considerably. For example: The smallest protein insulin has 51 amino acids and a bigger protein hemoglobin has 574 amino acids.
  • Proteins are the fundamental constituent of the cytoplasm of cell.
  • Proteins are considered as the bricks, they make up bones, muscles, hairs and other parts of the body.
  • The diffusion rate of protein is extremely low.
  • Protein exhibits amphoteric property i.e. they can act as acids and alkalies.
    Source here

    This happens due to presence of carboxyl and amino groups in amino acids of the protein molecule. Though these groups are used in peptide bond formation between each two adjacent amino acids during making polypeptide chain, the long chain has an open carboxyl group at one end (rightmost group in the figure) and an amine group at another end (leftmost group in the figure).

  • Protein like enzymes are functional elements that take part in metabolic reactions.
  • Antibodies, blood hemoglobin are also made of protein.

Structures of Protein

Depending on the structure of the proteins, they are classified into four groups named as:

  1. Primary structure
  2. Secondary structure
  3. Tertiary structure
  4. Quaternary structure

1. Primary structure

Primary structure describes the unique order in which amino acids are linked together to form a protein. Proteins are constructed from a set of 20 amino acids.

2. Secondary structure

Secondary structure refers to the coiling or folding of a polypeptide chain that gives the protein its 3-D shape. There are two types of secondary structure.

  • The alpha helix structure
  • The beta pleated sheet

3. Tertiary structure

Tertiary structure refers to the comprehensive 3-D structure of the polypeptide chain of a protein. There are several types of bonds and forces that hold a protein in its tertiary structure. These are

  • Hydrophilic structure
  • Hydrogen bonding
  • Inonic bonding

4. Quaternary structure

Quaternary structure refers to the structure of a protein macro molecule formed by interactions between multiple polypeptide chains. Each polypeptide chain is referred to as a subunit. Proteins with quaternary structure may consist of more than one of the same or different subunits. Example: Hemoglobin.