Most of us recognize the term protein in a nutritional context as referring to a class of foods that includes meats, dairy products, eggs, and other items. Certainly, proteins are an important part of nutrition, and obtaining complete proteins in one's diet is essential to the proper functioning of the body. But the significance of proteins extends far beyond the dining table. Vast molecules built from enormous chains of amino acids, proteins are essential building blocks for living systems—hence their name, drawn from the Greek proteios, or "holding first place." Proteins are integral to the formation of DNA, a molecule that contains genetic codes for inheritance, and of hormones. Most of the dry weight of the human body and the bodies of other animals is made of protein, as is a vast range of things with which we come into contact on a daily basis. In addition, a special type of protein called an enzyme has still more applications.

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