Amino acids (//, //, or //) are biologically important organic compounds composed of amine (-NH2) and carboxylic acid (-COOH) functional groups, along with a side-chain specific to each amino acid. The key elements of an amino acid are carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, though other elements are found in the side-chains of certain amino acids. About 500 amino acids are known and can be classified in many ways. Structurally they can be classified according to the functional groups' locations as alpha- (α-), beta- (β-), gamma- (γ-) or delta- (δ-) amino acids; other categories relate to polarity, pH level, and side chain group type (aliphatic, acyclic, aromatic, containing hydroxyl or sulfur, etc.) In the form of proteins, amino acids comprise the second largest component (after water) of human muscles, cells and other tissues. Outside proteins, amino acids perform critical roles in processes such as neurotransmitter transport and biosynthesis.
Amino acids having both the amine and carboxylic acid groups attached to the first (alpha-) carbon atom have particular importance in biochemistry. They are known as 2-, alpha-, or α-amino acids (generic formula H2NCHRCOOH in most cases where R is an organic substituent known as a "side-chain"); often the term "amino acid" is used to refer specifically to these. They include the 22 proteinogenic ("protein-building") amino acids which combine into peptide chains ("polypeptides") to form the building blocks of a vast array of proteins. These are all L-stereoisomers ("left-handed" isomers) although a few D-amino acids ("right-handed") occur in bacterial envelopes and some antibiotics. Twenty of the proteinogenic amino acids are encoded directly by triplet codons in the genetic code and are known as "standard" amino acids. The other two ("non-standard" or "non-canonical") are pyrrolysine (found in methanogenic organisms and other eukaryotes) and selenocysteine (present in many noneukaryotes as well as most eukaryotes). For example, 25 human proteins include selenocysteine (Sec) in their primary structure, and the structurally characterized enzymes (selenoenzymes) employ Sec as the catalytic moiety in their active sites. Pyrrolysine and selenocysteine are encoded via variant codons; for example, selenocysteine is encoded by stop codon and SECIS element. Codon–tRNA combinations not found in nature can also be used to "expand" the genetic code and create novel proteins known as alloproteins incorporating non-proteinogenic amino acids.
In chemistry, and especially in biochemistry, a fatty acid is a carboxylic acid with a long aliphatic tail (chain), which is either saturated or unsaturated. Most naturally occurring fatty acids have a chain of an even number of carbon atoms, from 4 to 28. Fatty acids are usually derived from triglycerides or phospholipids. When they are not attached to other molecules, they are known as "free" fatty acids. Fatty acids are important sources of fuel because, when metabolized, they yield large quantities of ATP. Many cell types can use either glucose or fatty acids for this purpose. In particular, heart and skeletal muscle prefer fatty acids. Despite long-standing assertions to the contrary, the brain can use fatty acids as a source of fuel in addition to glucose and ketone bodies.
Membrane biology is the study of the biological and physiochemical characteristics of membranes.