Proteins are amino acids that compose enzymes, which facilitate specific chemical reactions. They are accountable for nearly every task of cellular life, such as cell shape and inner organization, product manufacture and waste cleanup, and routine maintenance. Proteins also take signals from outside the cell and mobilize intracellular response.
When an enzyme is made, it is formed by stringing together between 100 and 1,000 amino acids in a very precise and unique order. The chain of amino acids then turns into a unique shape which allows the enzyme to carry out specific chemical reactions -- an enzyme acts as a very effective catalyst for a specific chemical reaction. The enzyme speeds that reaction up extremely.
Though RNAs are capable of catalyzing some reactions, most of the biological reactions are catalyzed by proteins. In the absence of enzymatic catalysis, most of the biochemical reactions are so slow that they would not take place under the mild conditions of pressure and temperature that are compatible with life.
Just recently, University of Buffalo researcher Sheldon Park received a $300,000 National Science Foundation grant to develop technology that dramatically reduces the time it takes to characterize proteins, a method that allows researchers to eliminate protein function in just a few days so that its role in the cell can be examined. Find out more at University at Buffalo Reporter.