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 Information @ a glance   


  • Amino acids are molecules containing an amine group, a carboxylic acid group and a side-chain that varies between different amino acids.
  • The key elements of an amino acid are carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. They are particularly important in biochemistry, where the term usually refers to alpha-amino acids.
  • Amino acids are critical to life, and have many functions in metabolism. One particularly important function is to serve as the building blocks of proteins, which are linear chains of amino acids. Amino acids can be linked together in varying sequences to form a vast variety of proteins.
  • Twenty-two amino acids are naturally incorporated into polypeptides and are called proteinogenic or standard amino acids. Of these, 20 are encoded by the universal genetic code. Nine standard amino acids are called "essential" for humans because they cannot be created from other compounds by the human body, and so must be taken in as food.
  • When taken up into the human body from the diet, the 22 standard amino acids either are used to synthesize proteins and other biomolecules or are oxidized to urea and carbon dioxide as a source of energy.
  • The oxidation pathway starts with the removal of the amino group by a transaminase, the amino group is then fed into the urea cycle. The other product of transamidation is a keto acid that enters the citric acid cycle.
  • Amino acids are used for a variety of applications in industry, but their main use is as additives to animal feed. This is necessary, since many of the bulk components of these feeds, such as soybeans, either have low levels or lack some of the essential amino acids: Lysine, methionine, threonine, and tryptophan are most important in the production of these feeds.
  • In this industry, amino acids are also used to chelate metal cations in order to improve the absorption of minerals from supplements, which may be required to improve the health or production of these animals.
  • Degradation of an amino acid often involves deamination by moving its amino group to alpha-ketoglutarate, forming glutamate. This process involves transaminases, often the same as those used in amination during synthesis.
  • In many vertebrates, the amino group is then removed through the urea cycle and is excreted in the form of urea. However, amino acid degradation can produce uric acid or ammonia instead. For example, serine dehydratase converts serine to pyruvate and ammonia.
  • Some amino acids have special properties such as cysteine, that can form covalent disulfide bonds to other cysteine residues, proline that forms a cycle to the polypeptide backbone, and glycine that is more flexible than other amino acids.
  • Many proteins undergo a range of posttranslational modifications, when additional chemical groups are attached to the amino acids in proteins. Some modifications can produce hydrophobic lipoproteins, or hydrophilic glycoproteins.
  • These type of modification allow the reversible targeting of a protein to a membrane. For example, the addition and removal of the fatty acid palmitic acid to cysteine residues in some signaling proteins causes the proteins to attach and then detach from cell membranes.
  • The kinds of amino acids determine the shape of the proteins formed. Commonly recognized amino acids include glutamine, glycine, phenylalanine, tryptophan, and valine. Three of those phenylalanine, tryptophan, and valine are essential amino acids for humans; the others are isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, and threonine. The essential amino acids cannot be synthesized by the body; instead, they must be ingested through food.
  • One of the best-known essential amino acids is tryptophan, which performs several critical functions for people. Tryptophan helps induce normal sleep. It helps reduce anxiety, depression, and artery spasm risk and helps produce a stronger immune system.
  • Tryptophan is perhaps most well-known for its role in producing serotonin, which is what gets all the press at Thanksgiving time for putting you to sleep after the big holiday feast.

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