Molecular Monday: Putting the Amino in Amino Acid

So I wanted to start talking about amino acids today. But let’s face facts: amino acids are complicated. They’re also hard to draw. So instead, let’s talk about ammonia. Here’s a drawing of an ammonia molecule:

Ja08 Ammonia

It’s just one nitrogen atom with three hydrogen atoms attached. Nice. Friendly. Easy to draw.

Let’s make it even easier! Let’s take away one of those hydrogen atoms.

Ja08 Primary Amine

This is no longer an ammonia molecule. Instead, chemists call this an amine. With that hydrogen out of the way, this amine is free to bond with something else. Perhaps something more interesting than an ordinary hydrogen atom.

How about we take away another hydrogen atom?

Ja08 Secondary Amine

This is called a secondary amine (the amine from before was a primary amine). It can bond with two other chemicals, allowing for the construction of some sort of weird, complicated super molecule.

Okay, let’s take away the third hydrogen…

Ja08 Tertiary Amine

… and now we have a tertiary amine (also known as a nitrogen atom). I bet we could build some really wacky (and useful) large molecules out of this.

By now, you can probably guess why I’m writing about these amines for my first post on amino acids. It’s because amines give amino acids their name (or at least the first part of their name). Primary, secondary, and tertiary amines are key structural components in all amino acids.

In the next edition of Molecular Mondays, we’ll talk about the other key structural component of amino acids: the acid part.

* * *

Today’s post is part of a special series here on Planet Pailly called Molecular Mondays. Every other Monday, I struggle valiantly to understand and explain some concept in the field of chemistry. Please note: I suck at chemistry, but I’m trying to learn. If I made a mistake, please, please, please let me know so I can get better.

5 Responses to Molecular Monday: Putting the Amino in Amino Acid

  1. Kirov says:

    Love this series. I’m not so good at chemistry myself, and my core class in college gave me a bad impression. But it can still be interesting and is very helpful in understanding other concepts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • James Pailly says:

      It seems like a lot of people got bad impressions of the subject in school. I often wonder if the subject itself is just naturally difficult or if there’s something wrong with the way it’s taught.


  2. […] the amines we met last Molecular Monday, carboxyl groups are free to bond with other stuff, forming larger molecules known as carboxylic […]


  3. […] I still have a ways to go. So far here on the blog, I’ve introduced you to amino groups and carboxyl groups. By definition, amino acids must include at least one of each of these […]


  4. […] already looked at the anatomy of an amino acid. For today’s post, the crucial components are the amino group of one amino acid and the carboxyl group of […]


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