|protein (prō'tēn') Pronunciation Key
Any of a large class of complex organic chemical compounds that are essential for life. Proteins play a central role in biological processes and form the basis of living tissues. They consist of long chains of amino acids connected by peptide bonds and have distinct and varied three-dimensional structures, usually containing alpha helices and beta sheets as well as looping and folded chains. Enzymes, antibodies, and hemoglobin are examples of proteins.
Our Living Language : Proteins are the true workhorses of the body, carrying out most of the chemical processes and making up the majority of cellular structures. Proteins are made up of long chains of amino acids, but they don't resemble linear pieces of spaghetti. The atoms in these long chains have their own attractive and repulsive properties. Some of the amino acids can form bonds with other molecules in the chain, kinking and twisting and folding into complicated, three-dimensional shapes, such as helixes or densely furrowed globular structures. These folded shapes are immensely important because they define the protein's function in the cell. Some protein shapes fit perfectly in cell receptors, turning chemical processes on and off, like a key in a lock, whereas others work to transport molecules throughout the body (hemoglobin's shape is ideal for carrying oxygen). When proteins fail to take on their preordained shapes, there can be serious consequences: misfolded proteins have been implicated in diseases such as alzheimer's, mad cow, and Parkinson's, among others. Exactly how proteins are able to fold into their required shapes is poorly understood and remains a fundamental question in biochemistry. See more at prion.