HideShow resource information


Different proteins can appear very different and perform diverse functions (e.g. the water-soluble antibodies involved in the immune system and the water-insoluble keratin of hair, hooves and feathers). Despite this, each one is made up of amino acid subunits.

There about 20 different amino acids that all have a similar chemical structure but behave in very different ways because they have different side groups. Hence, stringing them together in different combinations produces very different proteins.

Each amino acid has an amino group (NH2) and a carboxylic acid group (COOH). The R group is a different molecule in different amino acids which can make them neutral, acidic, alkaline, aromatic (has a ring structure) or sulphur-containing.

When 2 amino acids are joined together (condensation) the amino group from one and the acid group from another form a bond, producing one molecule of water. The bond formed is called a peptide bond.

Hydrolysis is the opposite of condensation and is the breaking of a peptide bond using a molecule of water.

Primary structure of proteins

Due to the bonding and the shape and chemical nature of different amino acids, the shape of a whole chain of amino acids (a polypeptide or protein) is specific.

This will affect the properties of the protein, just as the type of a necklace depends on the type of beads and how they are strung together. Therefore, the primary structure depends on the order and number of amino acids in a particular protein.

For example:Haemoglobin is made up of 4 polypeptide chains, 2α chains and 2β chains, each with a haem group attached. There are 146 amino acids in each chain. If just one of these is wrong, serious problems can arise (e.g. sickle cell anaemia). The red blood cells become distorted, the amount of oxygen they can carry is reduced and blood capillaries can be blocked, leading to acute pains called crises.

Secondary structure of proteins

This is the basic shape that the chain of amino acids takes on. The 2 most common structures are the α-helix and the β-pleated sheet.

This has a regular coiled structure like a spring, with the R groups pointing towards the outside of…


No comments have yet been made

Similar Biology resources:

See all Biology resources »