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Biology LibreTexts

8.1: Polypeptide and protein structure basics

While all proteins have a similar bulk composition, this obscures rather than illuminates their dramatic structural and functional differences. With the introduction of various chemical methods, it was discovered that different proteins were composed of distinct and specific sets of subunits, and that each subunit is an unbranched polymer with a specific amino acid sequence. Because the amino acids in these polymers are linked by what are known as peptide bonds, the polymers are known generically as polypeptides. At this point, it is important to reiterate that proteins are functional objects, and they can be composed of a number of distinct polypeptides each encoded by distinct gene. In addition to polypeptides many proteins also contain other molecular components, known as co-factors or prosthetic groups (we will call them co-factors for simplicity’s sake.) These co-factors can range from metal ions to various small molecules.


  • Michael W. Klymkowsky (University of Colorado Boulder) and Melanie M. Cooper (Michigan State University) with significant contributions by Emina Begovic & some editorial assistance of Rebecca Klymkowsky.