Proteam UP! The Research


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What do you think of if someone says ‘protein’? Most people may think of protein-rich foods such as chicken, eggs or fish. However, if you asked the same question to a scientist, they would give you a very different answer! 

Proteins are compounds made up of amino acid molecules. As well as being one of the three main food groups, they are needed by the body for cell growth and repair.

  • All cells are made mostly from protein. This means that your body needs protein to make new cells when you grow, and to replace old or damaged cells.
  • In digestion, protein molecules break down long chains of amino acids, to single amino acids. Later, your body joins amino acids together again, in the correct order, to make the new protein molecules it needs.


A protein has hundreds, if not thousands of amino acids joined end to end. Each type of protein will have a unique sequence of amino acids. The amino acid chains fold up to form three-dimensional molecules with complex shapes – you could think of it as origami with a very long and thin piece of paper. The precise shape of each protein, along with the amino acids it contains, determines what it does. This process happens in the ribosome, which are found inside cells.

A single cell can contain thousands of proteins, each with a unique job to do. Although what the proteins look like, as well as what they do, may vary greatly all proteins are made up of one or more chains of amino acids. It is how this chain of amino acids is ordered that will determines the structure and function of the protein. 


A single cell can contain thousands of proteins, each with a unique function. Here we will talk about what jobs different types of proteins carry out. 

Enzymes are a type of protein that help make biochemical reactions happen inside your body. However, each enzyme will make a different reaction work. The types of reactions they help can include breaking down food or biological things inside your body, or, linking up and rearranging various biological matter inside your body. 

One example of an enzyme found in your body is salivary amylase. This breaks down a type of starch found in foods called amylose.  Amylose is broken down into smaller sugars. 

Fun fact: Starchy food such as rice and grains do not taste very sweet but the smaller sugars the amylose is broken down into do. This is why starchy foods often taste sweeter if you chew them for longer: you’re giving salivary amylase time to get to work.


A single cell can contain thousands of proteins, each with a unique function. Here we will talk about what jobs different types of proteins carry out. 

A hormone can be thought of as a chemical messenger that sends signals to the rest of your body. Often, these signals will be in response to something happening inside your body. There is a type of hormone that is protein-based. In research we call these peptide hormones (peptide is just another word for protein).

A peptide hormone that you might have heard of before is insulin. Insulin is an important peptide hormone that helps regulate blood glucose levels. When blood glucose rises (for instance, after you eat a meal), special cells in the pancreas release insulin. The insulin binds to cells in the liver and other parts of the body, causing them to take up the glucose. This process helps return blood sugar to its normal, resting level.


Professor Sophia Yaliraki's research group uses chemsitry and mathematics to investigate a variety of systems, including proteins. This allows us to understand how proteins communicate with each other and with molecules in their environment. Once we understand how proteins communicate, we can then design novel molecules to tune protein function - for example designing drugs to target proteins that are misbehaving in diseases.

Dr Anna Barnard’s research group develop chemical molecules to understand how proteins interact with each other. When some proteins interact, this can lead to diseases such as malaria. Once we understand how proteins interact, we can use chemical molecules to stop these proteins interacting and causing disease. 

Professor Ed Tate’s research group looks at how proteins can be made and modified. These proteins can then be used in medicinal chemistry as potential medicines and therapies. 

Let's discuss!
  • Did you know that there is ongoing research into encoding large amounts of data in DNA using an approach similar to what you did in the Bonus Challenge of Part 1


  • Remember when we learnt about a type of protein called an enzyme?
    • Did you know that enzymes called detergent enzymes are found in laundry powder?
    • There are five types of enzymes found in laundry detergent include proteases, amylases, lipases, cellulases, and mannanases.
    • They break down fats, proteins in blood and egg stains, mannans found in starch, and also cellulose found in tomato sauce. This is how stains are removed from your clothes!


We've posted some discussion points above to get you thinking, but we’d love to hear from you!

We’ll be hosting two LIVE Q&A events where you can ask questions of the Imperial team behind the ProTEAM UP! resources.

Check out our 'Welcome' page for dates and times. 

Post your questions / comments below. You can add them at any time:

Image of a dictionary entry


Amino acid: The building blocks that make up a protein molecule.

Code: A rule for converting one type of information into another, usually simpler or more complicated.

Cell: Basic unit of life. Unicellular organisms only have one cell. Multicellular organisms have many cells. 

DNA: Deoxyribonucleic acid. The material inside the nucleus of cells, carrying the genetic information of a living being.

Molecule: A collection of two or more atoms held together by chemical bonds.

Monomer: Small molecule that can join end to end with other monomers to form a polymer molecule.

Organism: Living entity, e.g., animals, plants or microorganisms.

Polymer: A large molecule formed from many identical smaller molecules known as monomers.

Protein: Organic compound made up of amino acid molecules. One of the three main food groups, proteins are needed by the body for cell growth and repair.

Protein synthesis: The production of proteins from amino acids, which happens in the ribosomes of the cell.

Ribosome: The site of protein synthesis.