Amino acid

organic compound containing both amino and acidic functional groups, important in biology
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Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. In eukaryotes, there are 20 "standard" amino acids out of which almost all proteins are made.

Amino acids are the end product of protein. The general structure of an α-amino acid, with the amino group on the left and the carboxyl group on the right.

In biochemistry, an amino acid is any molecule that has both amine (NH2+R) and carboxyl (C=O) functional groups. In biochemistry, this term refers to alpha-amino acids with the general formula H2NCHRCOOH, where R is one of many side groups (see diagram).

There are hundreds


Across all forms of life, about 500 amino acids are known.[1] The most important thing that amino acids do is to be part of proteins, which are long chains of amino acids. Every protein has its own sequence of amino acids, and that sequence makes the protein take different shapes, and have different functions. Amino acids are like the alphabet for proteins; even though you only have a few letters, if you connect them, you can make many different sentences.

Nine of the 20 standard amino acids are "essential" amino acids for humans. They cannot be built (synthesised) from other compounds by the human body. They must be taken in as food. Others may be essential for some ages or medical conditions. Essential amino acids may also differ between species. Herbivores have to get their essential amino acids from their diet, which for some is almost entirely grass. Ruminants such as cows get some amino acids via microbes in the first two stomach chambers.



An amino acid is an organic chemical. It consists of an α-carbon atom that is covalently bonded to four groups.[2]

  • a hydrogen atom
  • an amino group (-NH2)
  • a carboxyl group (-COOH)
  • a variable R group

Every amino acid has at least one amino group (-NH2) and one carboxyl group (-COOH), except proline.

Gene expression and biochemistry


These are the proteinogenic amino acids, which are the building blocks for proteins. They are produced by cellular machinery coded for in the genetic code of any organism.[3]

Amino Acid Short Abbrev. Codon(s) Occurrence
in human proteins
Essential in humans
Alanine A Ala GCU, GCC, GCA, GCG 7.8 No
Cysteine C Cys UGU, UGC 1.9 Conditionally
Aspartic acid D Asp GAU, GAC 5.3 No
Glutamic acid E Glu GAA, GAG 6.3 Conditionally
Phenylalanine F Phe UUU, UUC 3.9 Yes
Glycine G Gly GGU, GGC, GGA, GGG 7.2 Conditionally
Histidine H His CAU, CAC 2.3 Yes
Isoleucine I Ile AUU, AUC, AUA 5.3 Yes
Lysine K Lys AAA, AAG 5.9 Yes
Leucine L Leu UUA, UUG, CUU, CUC, CUA, CUG 9.1 Yes
Methionine M Met AUG 2.3 Yes
Asparagine N Asn AAU, AAC 4.3 No
Pyrrolysine O Pyl UAG* 0 No
Proline P Pro CCU, CCC, CCA, CCG 5.2 No
Glutamine Q Gln CAA, CAG 4.2 No
Arginine R Arg CGU, CGC, CGA, CGG, AGA, AGG 5.1 Conditionally
Serine S Ser UCU, UCC, UCA, UCG, AGU, AGC 6.8 No
Threonine T Thr ACU, ACC, ACA, ACG 5.9 Yes
Selenocysteine U Sec UGA** >0 No
Valine V Val GUU, GUC, GUA, GUG 6.6 Yes
Tryptophan W Trp UGG 1.4 Yes
Tyrosine Y Tyr UAU, UAC 3.2 Conditionally
Stop codon - Term UAA, UAG, UGA†† - -

* UAG is normally the amber stop codon, but encodes pyrrolysine if a PYLIS element is present.
** UGA is normally the opal (or umber) stop codon, but encodes selenocysteine if a SECIS element is present.
The stop codon is not an amino acid, but is included for completeness.
†† UAG and UGA do not always act as stop codons (see above).
An essential amino acid cannot be synthesized in humans. It must be supplied in the diet. Conditionally essential amino acids are not normally required in the diet, but must be supplied to populations which do not make enough of it.

To these α-amino acids further in biosynthesis processes appearing non-essential ones are structurally (here by using SMILES notation) related:


  • ├ H .. 🅖 Glycine
  • ├ C .. 🅐 Alanine
  • │├ C .. 2-Aminobutanoic acid
  • ││├ C .. Norvaline
  • │││├ –2H .. 🅟 Proline (Dehydronorvaline)
  • │││├ C .. Norleucine
  • ││││└ N .. 🅚 Lysine
  • ││││    └ C(=O)C1N=CCC1C .. 🅞 Pyrrolysine
  • │││└ NC(=N)N .. 🅡 Arginine
  • ││├ C(=O)N .. 🅠 Glutamine
  • ││├ C(=O)O .. 🅔 Glutamic acid
  • ││├ O .. Homoserine
  • ││└ S .. Homocysteine
  • ││    └ C .. 🅜 Methionine
  • │├ C(C)C .. 🅛 Leucine
  • │├ C(=O)N .. 🅝 Asparagine
  • │├ C(=O)O .. 🅓 Aspartic acid
  • │├ C1=CNC=N1 .. 🅗 Histidine
  • │├ c1ccccc1 .. 🅕 Phenylalanine
  • │├ c1ccc(O)cc1 .. 🅨 Tyrosine
  • │├ C1=CNc2ccccc12 .. 🅦 Tryptophan
  • │├ C1=CNc2ccc(O)cc12 .. Oxitriptan
  • │├ c(cc1I)cc(I)c1-O-c2cc(I)c(O)c(I)c2 .. Thyroxine
  • │├ O .. 🅢 Serine
  • │├ S .. 🅒 Cysteine
  • │└ [SeH] .. 🅤 Selenocysteine
  • ├ C(C)C .. 🅥 Valine
  • ├ C(C)O .. 🅣 Threonine
  • └ C(C)CC .. 🅘 Isoleucine


  1. Wagner, Ingrid; Musso, Hans (1983). "New Naturally Occurring Amino Acids". Angewandte Chemie International Edition in English. 22 (11): 816–828. doi:10.1002/anie.198308161.
  2. Creighton, Thomas H. (1993). "Chapter 1". Proteins: structures and molecular properties. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman. ISBN 978-0-7167-7030-5.
  3. Ambrogelly A; Palioura S & Söll D. (2007). "Natural expansion of the genetic code". Nat Chem Biol. 3 (1): 29–35. doi:10.1038/nchembio847. PMID 17173027.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)