Polypeptide: Definition, Formation & Structure

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Jeremy Battista

Jeremy has a master of science degree in education.

Expert Contributor
Brenda Grewe

Brenda has 25 years of experience teaching college level introductory biology and genetics. She earned her PhD in Genetics from Indiana University.

Polypeptides bond several amino acids together to create proteins and give them their unique shape. Explore the definition, formation, and structure of polypeptides, and understand the roles of amino acids, carboxyl groups, and the covalent bond in creating proteins. Updated: 10/11/2021


Proteins are extremely important to cellular function. They make up half of the mass of a cell. Protein comes from the Greek word 'proteios,' which means 'first place.' Proteins help support structure in the cell and with transport and storage of substances. They also work to help to defend the cell and control metabolic functions. Structurally, proteins are very diverse and complex. Each type of protein holds its own specific shape, and that's where polypeptides come in.

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  • 0:02 Proteins
  • 0:39 Polypeptides
  • 0:54 Amino Acids
  • 1:26 Carboxyl Groups
  • 2:08 Formation
  • 5:22 Lesson Summary
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Polypeptides help make up proteins by bonding numerous amino acids together. Proteins are created by the bonding of two or more polypeptides, which are then folded into a specific shape for a particular protein.

Amino Acids

Polypeptides are similar in structure to their particular amino acid groups, except that they're connected by covalent, or electron-sharing bonds. Amino acids are the basic building blocks of the polypeptide. There are 20 different amino acids, all with specific structures. By understanding the structure of the amino acids needed for whatever protein you are building, you can grasp the idea of how they will bond together with other amino acids.

Carboxyl Groups

Carboxyl groups appear in all amino acids since the latter are made up of an amino group and a carboxyl group. A carboxyl group consists of a hydroxyl (OH) bonded to a carbon, which is double bonded to an oxygen. This creates a negative group, thereby allowing the group to bond with another carbon atom and create a covalent bond. This group bonds to an amino group, which leads to the creation of an amino acid.

Polypeptides become increasingly complex and diverse as they form proteins. At one end of the polypeptide is the carboxyl group called the c-terminal. On the opposite end is the amino terminal, or n-terminal.


So, how are polypeptides formed? It's kind of a 'wet process,' actually. Why? Because it involves water. Here's what this means: each amino acid has what's known as an amino group. An amino group is one that looks like this: NH2, where the N stands for nitrogen and the H stands for hydrogen. Amino acids also have a carboxyl group, which looks like this: COOH. The C stands for carbon, the O stands for oxygen, and the H you already know about. When the polypeptide is formed, at least two amino acids saddle up next to one another. When they do so, they reach out to each other (chemically speaking, of course). One reaches out with the amino group and the other reaches out with the carboxyl group.

They then chemically join hands to form a peptide bond (a.k.a. amide bond), which is the covalent bond between two amino acids. You know how if you hold someone's hand for too long, some watery sweat begins to build up between the hands? Well, when the two amino acids join hands to form a peptide bond, they actually release water as well. This is known as a condensation reaction because two or more molecules (in this case amino acids) combine to form an even larger molecule (a dipeptide, in this case) with a concurrent release of a smaller molecule (water, in our example). The amino acid reaching out with the carboxyl end (COOH) lets go of an OH, while the amino acid reaching out with the amino end (NH2), lets go of an H. OH + H = H20, which equals water.

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Additional Activities

Polypeptide Puzzle

Now that you know what polypeptides are and how they are made, test your mastery of these molecules and have some fun while doing that!

Use the image below as a clue to some of the puzzle parts.

Polypeptide Crossword

generated with EclipseCrossword


  • You may find it helpful to enlarge the screen or print out a larger image of the puzzle.
  • Do not leave blank spaces where an answer may be two words
  • Use hyphens when a word contains them


3. contains 2-50 amino acids

4. the number of peptide bonds that join 51 amino acids together

7. a polypeptide of 100 amino acids will have _____ peptide bonds

8. this chemical group of all amino acids has the formula COOH

11. this end of a polypeptide has a carboxyl group

12. all amino acids have an amino group, a carboxyl group and a _____ bonded to a central Carbon atom

14. the number of amino acids used to make polypeptides

15. chemical reaction that joins two amino acids together and releases a water molecule

16. is a chain of more than 50 amino acids


1. may consist of more than one polypeptide

2. a covalent bond between two amino acids

5. building block of polypeptides

6. this end of the polypeptide has an amino group

9. This group contains nitrogen

10. a function of some proteins

13. this varies among the different amino acids

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