Amino acids are a set of 20 different molecules used to build proteins. Proteins consist of one or more chains of amino acids called polypeptides. The sequence of the amino acid chain causes the polypeptide to fold into a shape that is biologically active. The amino acid sequences of proteins are encoded in the genes.
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Amino acids are the small molecules that are put together to make proteins. And so there are 20 different amino acids. You can think of it as different flavors that get linked together like beads on a string to make long chains that we call polypeptides, and those are the building blocks of proteins. And the really neat thing about the amino acids is that when they're linked together, they fold to make the final shape of the protein. And it's the shape of the protein that really dictates what it can do in the cell.
Lawrence C. Brody, Ph.D.
Chief & Senior Investigator, Genome Technology Branch; Head, Molecular Pathogenesis Section
Dr. Brody investigates the genetics of breast cancer and neural tube defects. As chief of the NHGRI Genome Technology Branch's Molecular Pathogenesis section, he is interested in studying genetic mutations that lead to perturbations in normal metabolic pathways and cause disorders such as cancer and birth defects. His laboratory investigates mutations in two breast cancer-linked genes, breast cancer gene 1 (BRCA1) and breast cancer gene 2 (BRCA2). Dr. Brody's laboratory was among the first to report that women carrying BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations have a higher risk of developing both breast and ovarian cancer than women without such mutations.