[ proh-teen, -tee-in ]

  1. Biochemistry. any of numerous, highly varied organic molecules constituting a large portion of the mass of every life form and necessary in the diet of all animals and other nonphotosynthesizing organisms, composed of 20 or more amino acids linked in a genetically controlled linear sequence into one or more long polypeptide chains, the final shape and other properties of each protein being determined by the side chains of the amino acids and their chemical attachments: proteins include such specialized forms as collagen for supportive tissue, hemoglobin for transport, antibodies for immune defense, and enzymes for metabolism.

  2. the plant or animal tissue rich in such molecules, considered as a food source supplying essential amino acids to the body.

  1. (formerly) a substance thought to be the essential nitrogenous component of all organic bodies.

  1. Biochemistry. of the nature of or containing protein.

Origin of protein

First recorded in 1835–45; from German Protein, from Greek prōte(îos) “primary” + German -in -in2; replacing proteine, from French; cf. proto-
  • Also pro·teid [proh-teed, -tee-id]. /ˈproʊ tid, -ti ɪd/.

Other words from protein

  • pro·tein·a·ceous [proh-tee-ney-shuhs, -tee-i-ney-], /ˌproʊ tiˈneɪ ʃəs, -ti ɪˈneɪ-/, pro·tein·ic, pro·tei·nous, adjective
  • non·pro·tein, noun

Words that may be confused with protein

Words Nearby protein Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2024

How to use protein in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for protein


/ (ˈprəʊtiːn) /

  1. any of a large group of nitrogenous compounds of high molecular weight that are essential constituents of all living organisms. They consist of one or more chains of amino acids linked by peptide bonds and are folded into a specific three-dimensional shape maintained by further chemical bonding

Origin of protein

C19: via German from Greek prōteios primary, from protos first + -in

Derived forms of protein

  • proteinaceous, proteinic or proteinous, adjective

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Scientific definitions for protein


[ prōtēn′ ]

  1. Any of a large class of complex organic chemical compounds that are essential for life. Proteins play a central role in biological processes and form the basis of living tissues. They consist of long chains of amino acids connected by peptide bonds and have distinct and varied three-dimensional structures, usually containing alpha helices and beta sheets as well as looping and folded chains. Enzymes, antibodies, and hemoglobin are examples of proteins.

a closer look

Proteins are the true workhorses of the body, carrying out most of the chemical processes and making up the majority of cellular structures. Proteins are made up of long chains of amino acids, but they don't resemble linear pieces of spaghetti. The atoms in these long chains have their own attractive and repulsive properties. Some of the amino acids can form bonds with other molecules in the chain, kinking and twisting and folding into complicated, three-dimensional shapes, such as helixes or densely furrowed globular structures. These folded shapes are immensely important because they define the protein's function in the cell. Some protein shapes fit perfectly in cell receptors, turning chemical processes on and off, like a key in a lock, whereas others work to transport molecules throughout the body (hemoglobin's shape is ideal for carrying oxygen). When proteins fail to take on their preordained shapes, there can be serious consequences: misfolded proteins have been implicated in diseases such as Alzheimer's, mad cow, and Parkinson's, among others. Exactly how proteins are able to fold into their required shapes is poorly understood and remains a fundamental question in biochemistry., See more at prion.

The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.