Our body is reliant on proteins, in more ways than one. The protein that we eat is a critical macronutrient, providing our body with the fuel it needs to build muscle and fuel the other essential processes that keep us healthy. After protein is digested, it breaks down into a variety of amino acids, and these compounds are the ones responsible for processes like neurological function and muscle growth.
However, protein isn’t just something that we get externally. Our body produces molecules called proteins within every cell that are also critical to the structure, function, and regulation of our tissues and organs. To do this accurately every single time, our body uses information stored within our DNA.
There are many different types of proteins created and used throughout our body. Some of the most important and distinct types include enzymes, hormones, and antibodies. Today, we’ll introduce bodily proteins, outline each type, and show how they work within our bodies.
Creating Functional Proteins
Proteins are created in a process called gene expression, which has two unique parts: transcription and translation.
During transcription, the gene information found within our DNA is passed to a molecule known as messenger RNA (ribonucleic acid). RNA is similar to DNA but has different chemical properties. The messenger RNA (mRNA) carries the information needed to make the protein from the nucleus of the cell into the cytoplasm.
The second part of the process, translation, takes place within the cytoplasm. The mRNA meets up with a ribosome, which “reads” it, then a second type of RNA called transfer RNA (tRNA) assembles the protein.
All proteins are created from amino acids using this process.
What are Enzymes?
Enzymes are a type of protein that helps speed up chemical reactions that take place within cells. They’re so effective that most chemical reactions speed up more than a millionfold once an enzyme is introduced. Depending on the type of enzyme, they may help by breaking up larger molecules into smaller pieces, or by binding two molecules together to create a new one.
Enzymes work by attaching themselves to a chemical called a substrate, which binds to the active site of an enzyme and helps it produce a new product. For example: when the enzyme amylase (found in our salivary glands) binds to starch, it accelerates its breakdown into a new product called maltose (malt sugar).
What are Hormones?
Hormones are a type of messenger protein that our body sends to various organs to help coordinate different biological functions, such as sleep, digestion, sexual function, and many more.
Although many types of proteins are hormones, there are types of hormones that are not made from amino acids. These are called steroid hormones, and they’re made from cholesterol.
Hormones originate in our endocrine glands, including the:
- Adrenal glands
- Pituitary gland
It only takes a tiny amount of these hormones to instigate major changes in our bodies. Imbalances in these hormones are typically regulated with medication.
What are Antibodies?
When our body is faced with an infectious external threat like a virus, fungi, or bacteria, it responds by creating proteins known as antibodies. These proteins are made by our immune system and are released to search out and destroy infections. Once an antibody has locked on to a target, it binds itself to it and triggers a reaction that will eventually neutralize the threat.
There are many different types of antibodies, and each of them works differently. For example, some antibodies wrap themselves around the target so they can’t perform their intended function, while others may send a signal to macrophages (other immune system cells) to search out and destroy the target.
Creating proteins is an essential component of gene expression. To learn more about genetics, and how our body translates our genetic information into the proteins and other molecules that keep us healthy, you can read more in our new Genetics 101 series.
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