• What Biological Roles Do Proteins Play?

Mass Spectrometry & Spectroscopy

What Biological Roles Do Proteins Play?

Jul 26 2021

Proteins are the building blocks of life, providing living organisms with a structural framework to grow and thrive. In fact, the word protein is derived from the Greek word proteos, meaning “the most important”. Every protein is made up of amino acids, bonded together by peptides to form a long chain. While these chains are made up of just 20 different types of amino acids, the human body alone can express hundreds of thousands of unique proteins.

Want to know more the link between proteins and biological function? From repairing tissue to catalysing metabolic reactions, read on as we spotlight some of the key roles protein plays in biological processes.

Repair and build tissue

Protein is vital to biological function as it’s used to build and repair tissues. Collagen is one of the most important biological proteins, used to grow and repair skin, bones, ligaments and tendons. Fibrous proteins like keratin and elastin are also used to build strong frameworks and are fundamental to skin, nail and hair health. Elastin is another indispensable protein, allowing tissues like the lungs, arteries and uterus to snap back to their original shape after contracting or stretching.

Delivering messages

Many key hormones are categorised as proteins and peptides, including insulin, glucagon and hGH (human growth hormone). Made and released by endocrine tissues and glands, these hormones travel in the blood and deliver chemical messages to target organs and tissues. For example, ADH (antidiuretic hormone) instructs the kidneys to retain water while ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone) triggers the release of cortisol to regulate the metabolism and suppress the body’s immunological response.

Catalysing metabolic reactions

Found within cells, enzymes are proteins that trigger biochemical reactions within the body. They play a fundamental role in supporting life and helping the body perform everyday tasks. Enzymes not only help the body digest food and break down large molecules such as carbohydrates and fats, but they also support other biological activities such as breathing, blood coagulation and reproduction.

Maintaining pH levels

Regulating acid and base concentrations is a primary role of proteins. For example, a protein called haemoglobin actively binds to acids to help maintain a normal human blood pH level of 7.4. Phosphate is another buffer protein that neutralises excess hydrogen ions if levels climb too high.

While proteins support life they’re also the driving cause of diseases such as Alzheimer's, Huntington's disease and cystic fibrosis. Proteins are also used by viruses like SARS-CoV-2 to infiltrate cells and cause life-threatening lung complications. Find out more about how next-generation protein analysis techniques are being used to uncover new insights into disease in ‘Deep characterisation and quantitative analysis of proteins and post-translational modifications - How TIMS has extended the capabilities of MS and shown considerable potential for improving PTM identification and critical understanding of sign.’

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