The smallest units of a protein are called amino acids. Like bricks in a wall, amino acids are "the building blocks of protein." Just as glycogen is formed from the linkage of numerous glucose molecules, proteins are formed from the joining of numerous amino acids. There are 20 amino acids that are required for growth by the human body. From these 20 amino acids, there are tens of thousands of different protein molecules that can be formed. Each protein is assembled from the bonding of different amino acids into various configurations. Growth hormone, for example, is a protein chain of 156 amino acids.
Amino acids are a lot like bricks. Individual bricks are building material that can be cemented together into a nearly unlimited number of structures such as a brick house, a brick wall, a brick oven, a brick chimney, a brick road, and so on. In the same fashion, your body takes the individual amino acids and "cements" them together with peptide bonds into various configurations to create muscle tissue and other body proteins.
Amino acids could also be looked at like letters of the alphabet. Eleanor Whitney and Sharon Rolfes, authors of the textbook "Understanding Nutrition," describe amino acids like this: "Amino acids are somewhat like letters in the alphabet. If you had only the letter G, all you could write would be a string of Gs: G-G-G-G-G-G-G-G. But with 20 different letters available, you could create poems, songs, or novels. The 20 amino acids can be linked together in an even greater variety of sequences than are possible for letters in a word or words in a sentence. The variety of possible sequences for polypeptide chains is tremendous."
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