In together, we always show them from the

In this lesson, we’ll take a deeper look at amino acids. You’ll learn what makes a peptide, and what separates a protein from other kinds of amino acid bonds.

Peptide Bonds and Protein Structure

Examples of amino acid structures
Amino Acids

Think back to a time when you liked to play, and when you liked to take ordinary objects, like paperclips, and turn them into other beautiful things, like necklaces. You did this by taking one paper clip, hooking it up with another one, and then adding another one on the end, and another one, and another one, until you had a long strand of paperclips. Similarly, amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins, can come together to form different types of peptides and proteins.Today, we’re going to talk about forming those bonds between amino acids, and we’ll also talk about the different types of molecules that can be made by making these bonds.

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How Peptides are Formed

In our cells, amino acids come together to form peptide bonds at places called ribosomes, which are sort of like a protein-building factory. We won’t worry about that right now. What we’re really concerned with is how these bonds form between two amino acids. Let’s take the two amino acids, glycine and alanine.

The structures of glycine and alanine
Glycine and Alanine

One thing you’ll notice is when we show amino acids that we’re going to join together, we always show them from the amine side to the carboxylic acid side.The side with the free amino group is known as the n-terminus of the amino acid.

The side with the free carboxylic acid group is known as the c-terminus of the amino acid, or peptide. If glycine on the left and alanine on the right come together, they can form a dipeptide. The way that this happens is that the nitrogen on the amino group of the alanine forms a bond with the carbonyl carbon of the carboxylic acid on the glycine.The byproduct of this reaction is water, which means that this is a dehydration reaction, or loss of water reaction.The resulting molecule that’s formed is a dipeptide, or peptide consisting of two amino acids.

It would also be possible for this dipeptide to come into contact with another amino acid, such as serine. If it came into contact with serine, it is possible that it could form a tripeptide when the nitrogen of the serine amino acid bonded to the carbonyl carbon of the carboxylic acid on the alanine in the dipeptide.Water would be a byproduct of this dehydration reaction, and we would be left with a tripeptide, consisting of glycine, alanine, and serine. So while it’s pretty cool to see a tripeptide in all of its chemical glory, and see all of the bonds that make up these molecules, sometimes, it can be useful to have a shorthand, or have a different way to represent a peptide.

A dipeptide formed from glycine and alanine
Example of a tripeptide bond
Example of Tripeptide

An important hormone that lowers our blood sugar, insulin, is made of two polypeptide chains – the a-chain, and the b-chain. The a-chain consists of 21 amino acid residues, or amino acids, while the b-chain consists of 30 amino acids. These two peptides come together to form the hormone, insulin. In fact, there are some disputes about where the boundary between peptide and protein begins.

Most scientists agree that it’s somewhere between 30 and 50 amino acids long, but that boundary is a little fuzzy. So, we’ll just go with 30.

Lesson Summary

To sum up what we’ve learned today, proteins and peptides are made from amino acids. These amino acids come together to form peptide bonds.

Peptide bonds are bonds between the carboxylic acid carbon of one amino acid, and the amino nitrogen of the next.We’ve learned that we always write peptides and proteins left to right, from the free amino group, through the different amino acids, down to the free carboxylic acid group. We’ve also learned that two amino acids together form a dipeptide, three amino acids together form a tripeptide, many amino acids together form a polypeptide (which goes up to around 30 amino acids in length), and anything bigger than that is considered a protein.


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