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Any of a class of organic compounds in which a carbon atom has bonds to an amino group (NH), a carboxyl group (COOH), a hydrogen atom (H), and an organic side group (called R). They are therefore both carboxylic acids and amines. The physical and chemical properties unique to each result from the properties of the R group, particularly its tendency to interact with water and its charge (if any). Amino acids joined linearly by peptide bonds (see covalent bond) in a particular order make up peptides and proteins. Of over 100 natural amino acids, each with a different R group, only 20 make up the proteins of all living organisms. Humans can synthesize 10 of them (by interconversions) from each other or from other molecules of intermediary metabolism, but the other 10 (essential amino acids: arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine) must be consumed in the diet.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on amino acid, visit Britannica.com.