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How Are Proteins Made?
Proteins And The Body Part 2 by Jane Thurnell-Read
Here's the second part of my introduction to proteins and the human body. Part 1 looked at proteins generally. Now we continue with more detailed information on exactly how they are made.
Proteins are synthesised in the cytoplasm (between the nucleus and the outer cell membrane), but the instruction for how to do this is located within the nucleus of the cell, so the cell has to have a mechanism for getting the instructions to the production site.
The process can be summarised as:
or to put it another way the process involves:
Here's the detail of this process :
1. A copy of the blueprint is made within the nucleus.
This process is called transcription, as one strand of the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) instructions is rewritten in RNA (ribonucleic acid) language by being encoded in a strand of RNA called messenger RNA (mRNA). Approximately 1% of the DNA (exons) is copied like this. The non-coding DNA (introns) is ignored. The RNA bases are used for this, and each sequence of three denotes a particular amino acid. (In the RNA bases uracil replaces thymine). This is called a codon. It is done in this way because the DNA molecules are too big to leave the nucleus, but mRNA is able to leave the nucleus through small pores and move into the cytoplasm. This may seem an unnecessarily long-winded process, but the original instructions are in DNA because DNA is more stable over time than RNA.
2. In the cytoplasm it combines with a ribosome, which is where new proteins are assembled.
Ribosomes are tiny machines that move along the mRNA, translating its message into amino acids. Ribosomes can be unattached (free ribosomes) or attached to the endoplasmic reticulum (membrane-bound ribosomes). The unattached ones are generally producing proteins for use within the cell, and the attached ones are producing proteins for use outside the cells.
3. Transfer ribonucleic acid molecules (tRNA) pick up loose amino acids in the cytoplasm, one per tRNA molecule.
There are different types of tRNA for each amino acid.
4. The tRNA molecule with its amino acid in tow links up with the ribosome.
5. The amino acid is attached at the correct place in the emerging protein chain.
6. When the protein is complete, it breaks off and folds into its particular characteristic shape. The ribosome and mRNA become ready for re-use.
Most protein production runs smoothly (otherwise there would be far more health problems than there are), but things can go wrong:
The proteins that are made in this way need to be transferred to where they are needed, but they could become damaged on the way or damage other material, so they are packaged.
Part of the function of the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) is to keep the proteins that have been made separate from the other contents of the cell, so they are sent into the tubes of the ER. In these tubes they may be modified by adding a carbohydrate molecule. This appears to act as a label and determines where the molecule is sent. The molecule ends up in a small swelling on the ER close to the Golgi complex. The molecule is transferred into the Golgi complex and sorted according to its “label”. It may also be changed from an inert to an active form within the Golgi complex (e.g. pro-insulin becomes insulin within the Golgi complex of the pancreatic cells). It is then put into a container for onward transport.
There are two types of containers:
The container is released when the cell gets a message that it is wanted. The messages come via the nervous and endocrine system. The container leaves the Golgi complex on the opposite side to which it entered and fuses with the outer cell membrane.
This completes the production of proteins.