The Discovery of Proteins: The Building Blocks of Life

The discovery of proteins has been one of the greatest breakthroughs in biology and medicine. Proteins are essential for the functioning of all living organisms – they are the “building blocks of life” and are involved in nearly every single process that occurs in the body.

In this article, we’ll explore the history of protein science, its structure and function and its importance to the world of medicine. We’ll also look at some of the most influential discoveries that have been made along the way and the current research being done in this fascinating field.

What are Proteins – A Brief Overview

Proteins are biological molecules made up of amino acid chains, and they can be found in nearly every cell in the body. They are held together by chemical bonds, and their structure and function vary depending on the specific amino acid combinations that make up the protein.

Proteins are in charge of a number of biological processes and activities, including the movement of cells, the transfer of information between cells, the storage and transport of energy, metabolism and the regulation of growth, development and the immune system.

A Brief History of Protein Discovery

Proteins have been around since the dawn of life, but it wasn’t until relatively recently in the grand scheme of things that humans have learned to study and manipulate them.

The first evidence that proteins had some connection to life was discovered in 1810 by the Dutch chemist Gerhardus Johannes Mulder. He has identified the protein albumin in the white of eggs, which was the first large biological molecule to be identified.

In 1838, an even bigger discovery was made – Justus von Liebig determined that proteins were made up of small building blocks – amino acids.

Even then, it was still a couple of decades before scientists were able to work out the full structure of proteins and understand how they functioned on a deeper level. The breakthrough moment in this area came in 1902 when Emile Hoogsteen suggested his “alpha helix” model of protein structure.

In 1949, Linus Pauling proposed his “beta pleated sheet” model which offered an even more detailed analysis and explanation of the way proteins were constructed.

Since then, protein science has become a vital field of research and understanding proteins has become a cornerstone of medical science.

The Role of Proteins in Medicine

Proteins play an incredibly important role in medicine – both in terms of understanding the biological processes that occur in the body and in terms of the effectiveness of treatments for diseases.

The main protein that is typically associated with medicine is insulin – the hormone responsible for regulating the body’s use of glucose. Other proteins, such as hormones, enzymes, antibodies and cytokines, carry out a range of other vital functions and are responsible for everything from digestion to immunity.

Proteins are also increasingly being used in drug development, as they can be modified in certain ways to create treatments for a range of diseases. For example, monoclonal antibodies – proteins that are specific to a certain target – can be used to treat cancers, autoimmune diseasesand infections.

Protein science has been vital in many other areas of medicine too, such as in gene therapy (where proteins are used to turn genes on and off) and protein engineering, where proteins are made to act in specific ways.

Recent Protein Discoveries

In recent years, researchers have made more amazing breakthroughs in protein science. Here are just a few of them:

• In 2016, researchers discovered a new protein involved in the body’s ability to create antibodies. The discovery allowed them to gain greater understanding into the body’s immunity to certain diseases.

• In 2017, scientists found a new protein called MIR608 which plays a role in the regulation of the lifespan of cells and could help in the treatment of diseases like cancer and heart disease.

• In 2019, a protein called Tsunami was discovered that regulates nutrient uptake in cells, and this could help with the development of treatments for diseases of malnutrition and starvation.

• In 2020, the protein ATP5E was identified which is involved in the breakdown of fat, and this could help in the treatment of obesity and metabolic disorders.

The discovery of proteins has been one of the most important breakthroughs in biology and medicine in the last two centuries. Proteins are the “building blocks of life” and are involved in every single process that occurs in the body.

Thanks to their discovery, researchers have been able to learn more about the body and how it works. This knowledge has enabled us to develop treatments and interventions for many disorders and diseases, and it’s likely that there are still more proteins and discoveries to be made in the future.