You’ve most likely heard many scientists say that proteins are the stuff of life but what exactly are proteins and why are they so important? Well, let’s start from the beginning. Living things are made up of four major macromolecules. Macro meaning large. So, large molecules. They are as follows: nucleic acids, lipids, carbohydrates, and proteins. Each has a specific function in the body.
A Quick Look At Macromolecules
Nucleic acids are things like DNA and RNA; they store and deliver the instructions on how to make proteins. Lipids act like insulators, they make up cell membranes, are wrapped around nerve cells, and collect at your belly to keep your vital organs warm and safe. Carbohydrates are fuel. Whether you’re eating a piece of bread or a candy bar, all those starches and sugars become cellular energy, ATP. These macromolecules are great and whatnot, but you need something versatile to carry out all these functions and that’s where proteins come in.
Proteins and Enzymes
You can think of proteins as the tools and structures that make things happen in the cell. Things like channels, pores, gates are all proteins. Hair and nails are made of protein. Even skin cells would be a blobby mess if not for collagen, the protein that keeps skin bouncy and youthful. Enzymes are also proteins, but they play a role in chemical reactions. Turning sugar into energy is a lot of work if left alone to happen spontaneously. Enzymes match up molecules in just the right orientation to make these reactions happen fast.
Gotta Fold ‘Em Correctly!
Proteins and enzymes have such specific jobs that their building blocks must be assembled in a specific way. A chain of very specific amino acids, coded by DNA, are put together by the ribosome. This chain then folds into beta-sheets and alpha-helices before continuing into a tertiary or 3D structure. Some proteins, such as hemoglobin, are a combination of tertiary structures that are further assembled in the Golgi Apparatus or Golgi Body. Once complete, a protein or enzyme either gets shipped out of the cell or stays in the cell to do work.
We decided to celebrate the process of protein synthesis… and the hours upon hours that high school students must dedicate to studying it… with a beta-sheet and Golgi necklace. Celebrate the little blobs that make the thousands of reactions in your body work seamlessly. Celebrate the little organs in your cells that make these little blobs. Without either of them, we wouldn’t be here. Our beta-sheet and Golgi pieces make great gifts for biologists, biochemists, high school students studying protein synthesis, and starry-eyed pre-med students struggling through college biochem.
written by Science with Evie