by Madeline Wong
MIT Chemistry graduate student
Posted on September 7th, 2014
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As your parents might have told you, protein is a key part of the food pyramid (included on nutritional labels and often equated with meat, beans, or nuts). But proteins are also molecular machines, signal processors, and structural supports for life. There are many examples: digestive enzymes in the stomach, adrenaline receptors in the brain, and collagen in bone.

Composed of a sequence of building blocks called amino acids, proteins can broadly be thought of as science’s version of words: they’re made from a different alphabet than the ones you might find in the dictionary, but they also can be sorted into different groups and each has a unique meaning or role. And just as a scrambled word loses much of its ability to function–“art” and “rat” have the same parts but very different meanings–proteins often require a specific structure in order to remain active.  Switch up the order of the letters or drastically change the shape, and a protein will probably behave quite differently.

Want to know more?   Ask a molecular biologist, biochemist, or biophysicist.  Many of us study proteins outside the dinner plate!

About the author
Madeline Wong
MIT Chemistry graduate student