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8.3G: Sulfur

Sulfur is an essential component of all living cells. It is the seventh or eighth most abundant element in the human body by weight, about equal in abundance to potassium, and slightly greater than sodium and chlorine. A 70 kg (150 lb) human body contains about 140 grams of sulfur.

The amino acids cysteine and methionine contain most of the sulfur, and the element is present in all polypeptides, proteins, and enzymes that contain these amino acids. In humans, methionine is an essential amino acid that must be ingested. However, save for the vitamins biotin and thiamine, cysteine and all sulfur-containing compounds in the human body can be synthesized from methionine. The enzyme sulfite oxidase is needed for the metabolism of methionine and cysteine in humans and animals.

Homocysteine and taurine are other sulfur-containing acids that are similar in structure, but not coded by DNA, and are not part of the primary structure of proteins. Many important cellular enzymes use prosthetic groups ending with -SH moieties to handle reactions involving acyl-containing biochemicals: two common examples from basic metabolism are coenzyme A and alpha-lipoic acid. Two of the 13 classical vitamins, biotin and thiamine, contain sulfur, with the latter being named for its sulfur content.


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