noun, often attributive
pro·​tein | \ ˈprō-ˌtēn How to pronounce protein (audio) also ˈprō-tē-ən How to pronounce protein (audio) \

Definition of protein

1 : any of various naturally occurring extremely complex substances that consist of amino-acid residues joined by peptide bonds, contain the elements carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, usually sulfur, and occasionally other elements (such as phosphorus or iron), and include many essential biological compounds (such as enzymes, hormones, or antibodies)
2 : the total nitrogenous material in plant or animal substances

Examples of protein in a Sentence

You need more protein in your diet. These foods are an excellent source of protein. These foods have all of the essential proteins.
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Recent Examples on the Web Collagen is a protein that makes up two-thirds of the dry weight of cartilage in knees and other joints. Paul T. Von Hippel, STAT, 24 Jan. 2022 Lewy body dementia, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s with Dementia, involves the destruction of brain cells by a naturally occurring protein. Mike Oliver, al, 16 Jan. 2022 That particular gene, which is called lamin A (LMNA), makes a protein that's necessary for holding the nucleus of a cell together. Korin Miller,, 14 Jan. 2022 Rapamycin, which targets a protein called mTOR (mechanistic target of rapamycin), helps suppress the immune system to prevent organ rejection in transplant patients. Ron Winslow, WSJ, 11 Jan. 2022 All four drugs reduce a sticky protein called amyloid that clumps into plaques in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. Globe Staff,, 10 Jan. 2022 This type of vaccine prompts the body to make a protein that is part of the pathogen, triggering an immune response. Washington Post, 5 Jan. 2022 These tests detect a viral protein on the surface of the coronavirus. Ryan W. Miller, USA TODAY, 4 Jan. 2022 Using a metaphorical set of instructions, mRNA vaccines teach our cells how to make a protein that will trigger an immune response inside our bodies. Joshua Cohen, Forbes, 4 Jan. 2022

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'protein.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of protein

1886, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for protein

borrowed from French protéine, from Late Greek prōteîos "of the first quality" (from Greek prôtos "first, foremost" + -eios, adjective suffix, originally from s-stems) + -ine -ine entry 1 — more at proto-

Note: The term protein was introduced by the Dutch chemist Johannes Gerardus Mulder (1802-80), as French protéine in the article "Sur la composition de quelques substances animales" (Bulletin des sciences physiques et naturelles en Néerlande, vol. 1 [1838], pp. 104-19), and as Dutch protein in the article "Over Proteine en hare Verbindingen en Ontleidingsproducten" (Natuur- en scheikundig Archief, vol. 6 [1838], pp. 87-162). Though Mulder in the beginning of the papers expresses gratitude to Jöns Jakob berzelius for his support, he does not mention any connection between Berzelius and the novel word. In the twentieth century, however, it was discovered that Berzelius had suggested the word to Mulder in a letter written July 10, 1838: "Le nom protéine que je vous propose pour l'oxyde organique de la fibrine et de l'albumine, je voulais le dériver de πρωτειος, parce qu'il paraît être la substance primitive ou principale de la nutrition animale que les plantes préparent pour les herbivores et que ceux-ci fournissent ensuite aux carnassiers." ("The name protein, which I propose for the organic oxide of fibrin and albumin, I wish to derive from prōteios, because it appears to be the primitive or principal substance of animal nutrition, which plants prepare for herbivores, and which the latter then provide for carnivores." — quoted in H.B. Vickery, "The origin of the word protein," Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, vol. 22, no. 5 [May, 1950], pp. 387-93.) In the French article, Mulder glosses the word prōteîos with Latin primarius "primary": "The organic material, being a general principal of all the constituent parts of the animal body and being found, as we will see later, in the vegetable kingdom, could be named protein from prōteîos …" (La matière organique, étant un principe général de toutes les parties constituantes du corps animal, et se trouvant, comme nous verrons tantôt, dans le règne végétal, pourrait se nommer Protéine de πρωτεῖος primarius.") This appears to be Mulder's own interpretation of the Greek word, as the leading Greek dictionary of the time, Franz Passow's Handwörterbuch der griechischen Sprache (4. Ausgabe, 1831) defines it only as a masculine noun: "first rank, first place, primacy, priority" ("erster Rang, erster Platz, Vorrang, Vorzug"). For details, see the article by H.B. Vickery cited above and Harold Hartley, "Origin of the Word 'Protein'," Nature, vol. 168, issue 4267 (August 11, 1951), p. 244.

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The first known use of protein was in 1886

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Last Updated

25 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Protein.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Jan. 2022.

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More Definitions for protein



English Language Learners Definition of protein

: a substance found in foods (such as meat, milk, eggs, and beans) that is an important part of the human diet


pro·​tein | \ ˈprō-ˌtēn How to pronounce protein (audio) \

Kids Definition of protein

: a nutrient found in food (as meat, milk, eggs, and beans) that is made up of many amino acids joined together, is a necessary part of the diet, and is essential for normal cell structure and function


noun, often attributive
pro·​tein | \ ˈprō-ˌtēn How to pronounce protein (audio) , ˈprōt-ē-ən How to pronounce protein (audio) \

Medical Definition of protein

1 : any of numerous naturally occurring extremely complex substances (as an enzyme or antibody) that consist of amino acid residues joined by peptide bonds, contain the elements carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, usually sulfur, and occasionally other elements (as phosphorus or iron), that are essential constituents of all living cells, that are synthesized from raw materials by plants but assimilated as separate amino acids by animals, that are both acidic and basic and usually colloidal in nature although many have been crystallized, and that are hydrolyzable by acids, alkalies, proteolytic enzymes, and putrefactive bacteria to polypeptides, to simpler peptides, and ultimately to alpha-amino acids
2 : the total nitrogenous material in plant or animal substances especially : crude protein

More from Merriam-Webster on protein

Nglish: Translation of protein for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of protein for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about protein


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