protein, any of the group of highly complex organic compounds found in all living cells and comprising the most abundant class of all biological molecules. Protein comprises approximately 50% of cellular dry weight. Hundreds of protein molecules have been isolated in pure, homogeneous form; many have been crystallized. All contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, and nearly all contain sulfur as well. Some proteins also incorporate phosphorous, iron, zinc, and copper. Proteins are large molecules with high molecular weights (from about 10,000 for small ones [of 50–100 amino acids] to more than 1,000,000 for certain forms); they are composed of varying amounts of the same 20 amino acids, which in the intact protein are united through covalent chemical linkages called peptide bonds. The amino acids, linked together, form linear unbranched polymeric structures called polypeptide chains; such chains may contain hundreds of amino-acid residues; these are arranged in specific order for a given species of protein.
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