Any of a large number of compounds found in living cells that contain carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen, and join together to form proteins. Amino acids contain a basic amino group (NH2) and an acidic carboxyl group (COOH), both attached to the same carbon atom. Since the carboxyl group has a proton available for binding with the electrons of another atom, and the amino group has electrons available for binding with a proton from another atom, the amino acid behaves as an acid and a base simultaneously. Twenty of the naturally occurring amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, which they form by being connected to each other in chains. Eight of those twenty, called essential amino acids, cannot be synthesized in the cells of humans and must be consumed as part of the diet. The remaining twelve are nonessential amino acids.
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