So, what is the chemistry behind it? Part 1

I read through The Chemistry of Natural Dyes by Dianne N. Epp and WOAH did I learn a lot! And now I have an explanation for what’s going on which is personally exciting! In this post I’m gonna talk about Keratin. It’s what wool is made out of. 

Keratin (I’ll explain what this is in another post)

Keratin is a protein. This protein is in everything! It’s in human nails, hair, skin, wool, hooves, etc. According to The Chemistry of Natural Dyes, keratin’s molar mass is about 60,000. Keratin is a complex polypeptide polymer made from 18 types of amino acids. Since I didn’t know what a polypeptide was, I’ll explain a little what it is.

A peptide is chain of amino acids. And an amino acid is a type of chemical structure that has an amine group (NH3, NH2, NR3…), carboxylic acid group (has Carbons, hydrogens and oxygens), and a side chain, known as R. A side chain is a unique hydrocarbon that attaches to amino acids.

If you see in the picture, it’s in a swirly structure called an α-helix (alpha-helix). The hydrogen bonds between the amino acids is what causes it to scrunch like that.

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3 thoughts on “So, what is the chemistry behind it? Part 1

  1. Pingback: So, what is the chemistry behind it? Part 2 « Tales of Steven

  2. Steven,
    Keratin actually refers to a huge family of structural fibrous proteins that are spaced throughout the chromosomes and contain many genes…just how many? Well, during development 50-100 different keratin genes are expressed in the hair follicle alone! Now remember from O. Chem that one a gene is transcribed (copied) into messenger RNA it is then translated into protein. There are only 20 amino acids that all DNA can code for and it is the length and sequence of the protein that determines it’s structure. What makes each amino acid unique is its “R” group which is its unique side chain. This site may help you make sense of the primary structure of proteins: http://www.elmhurst.edu/~chm/vchembook/561aminostructure.html
    The subsequent hydrogen bonds form between side chains of amino acids in the chain to make it form the alpha helix and allow it to maintain this structure throughout it’s like in the cell.

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