Amino Acids Influence Protein Behavior

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

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The third important characteristic of amino acids is that they have a variety of chemical natures, and these influence the structure and behavior of the protein they’re a part of. Some amino acids have portions resembling water and can form hydrogen bonds with other molecules, including water. Some have short carbon chains or carbon rings that resemble fats, and can form van der Waals bonds with other similar molecules. And some, especially those that include a sulfur atom, are especially reactive, and can form strong covalent bonds with other molecules, including other sulfur-containing amino acids. This means that a single protein has many different chemical environments along its chain: parts that attract water molecules, parts that avoid water molecules, and parts that are ready to form strong bonds with similar parts on other proteins, or on other parts of the same protein.