What Is the Function of Protein Synthesis?

Instructor: Amanda Robb
This lesson discusses the function of protein synthesis. We'll explore this very important process and some of the many roles it plays in sustaining life. At the end of the lesson, test your knowledge with a quiz.

What Is Protein Synthesis?

Picture a factory turning out your favorite clothing line. Each assembly line worker gets the correct fabric for the garment they will be making. They cut it into the correct shape and then sew it to other pieces to make a finished product. The clothing serves several purposes for you: It keeps you warm, protects your skin, and keeps you looking fabulous! Although cells, or the basic units of life, don't produce clothes, they do have tiny factories called ribosomes that make proteins. Proteins are small molecules that are needed for all cell structure and function--life could not exist without protein. Before we look at these important functions, let's review the steps in protein synthesis.

Steps of Protein Synthesis

There are two main steps to protein synthesis: transcription and translation. First in transcription, DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), or the master blueprint of the cell, is copied to RNA, another molecule holding genetic information. The RNA is like a photocopy of DNA with instructions for protein. Once the RNA (ribonucleic acid) is copied, it leaves the nucleus and moves to the cytoplasm of the cell, where the ribosomes are.

DNA copied to RNA
RNA transcription

At the ribosomes is where translation happens. The ribosomes read the RNA and tell another helper molecule, tRNA (transfer RNA), to go get the parts needed to build the protein. These parts are called amino acids. Once the amino acids get to the ribosome, the ribosome sticks them together to make a protein. After the amino acids are strung together, the protein gets folded up into the correct shape in the cytoplasm and is now ready for duty.

Translation of protein at the ribosome

Protein Function

Proteins control every aspect of cellular life. There are countless processes that use protein, but for the purposes of today's lesson, let's examine the role of protein in three particularly important parts of the body.

Function in Wound Healing

Whenever you get a cut, burn, or broken bone, your body must repair the tissue. This happens through the process of cell division, or the making of more cells. The muscle, blood-vessel, and skin cells divide, filling the wound and replacing the dead cells. Proteins called cyclins are involved in signaling this process to occur--they check that everything is okay before the process begins and tell the cell when it's a good time to divide. Another protein called DNA polymerase copies the DNA of the cell before cell division starts, making sure that each cell gets the correct amount of DNA. Spindle fibers that work to pull the cells apart during division are controlled by microtubule proteins. Without these important proteins, your wounds might never heal!

Microtubule proteins help in cell division to heal wounds
spindle fibers

Function in the Brain

Brain cells called neurons are cells with a very unique shape. They have a cell body shaped to receive signals from other cells in your brain, and they have a long projection called an axon that can carry signals far away from your brain. Some axons grow up to 6 feet long, carrying messages from your brain all the way to your toes. The same protein that spindle fibers are made of, tubulin, is responsible for helping the cell move things from the cell body down the axon. These proteins assemble into long highways, allowing other proteins like dynein to actually grab the chemical messages and walk them to the other end of the cell. Without these proteins, messages might never get from our brain to our toes, and walking would no longer be an option.

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