Classifications of Amino Acids, Biology tutorial

Criteria for Classification of Amino Acids:

Each of the twenty common amino acids of protein has a unique side chain but some amino acids could share identical features. Amino acids have been classified on the basis of the following criteria:

i. Functional group of the side chain.

ii. Polarity

iii. Nutritional requirements

Classification Based on Structure:

On the basis of the type of functional groups present in their side chains, amino acids can be placed into nine classes. Note that you are expected to study the structure of each amino acid taking into consideration their uniqueness.

1. Amino acid having hydrogen atom as R group-Gly

1961_Amino acid structure.jpg

2. Amino acids possessing unsubstituted aliphatic chain as their R group-Ala, Val, Leu, Ile

843_Amino acid-aliphatic chain.jpg

3. Amino acids whose R groups possess aliphatic chain bearing a hydroxyl group-Ser, Thr

1905_Amino acid structure-hydroxyl group.jpg

4. Amino acids whose R group is an aliphatic chain terminating in an acidic carboxyl Group-Asp, Glu

1782_Amino acid structure-carboxyl Group.jpg

5. Amino acids whose side groups are aliphatic chain terminating in basic amino group- Arg, Lys

2318_Amino acid structure-amino group.jpg

6. Amino acids whose side chains are aliphatic chain terminating in amide group-Asn, Gln

1773_Amino acid structure-amide group.jpg

7. Amino acids with sulphur-containing aliphatic R groups- Cys, Met

806_Amino acid structure-sulfur-containing.jpg

8. Amino acids whose side chains terminate in an aromatic ring- Phe, Tyr

161_Amino acid structure-aromatic ring.jpg

9. Amino acids whose side chains terminate in a heterocyclic ring- Trp, Pro, His

1762_Amino acid structure-heterocyclic ring.jpg

Categorization Based on Polarity:

Amino acids categorized according to polarities of their side chains. Polarity is maybe the most useful criterion of amino acid classification. This is due to protein folding is administered by tendency of amino acid residues of protein to interact with water. In protein conformation, hydrophobic side chains are detached from contact with water while hydrophilic (water-loving) ones interact liberally with aqueous environment. These interactions are in harmony with second law of Thermodynamics.

This categorization scheme places every amino acid in either of the two major classes given below:

i) Those with nonpolar R groups

ii) Those with polar R groups

i) Amino Acids with Nonpolar Side Chains:

Glycine, Alanine, Valine, Leucine, Isoleucine, Methionine, Proline, Phenylalanine and Tryptophan have nonpolar R group. The table provides description of nature of individual side chains that account for their nonpolarity.

Nonpolar Amino acid

Nature of R group

Gycine, Alanine, Valine,

Leucine, Isoleucine

Contain aliphatic side chain


Contains a thio ether end


Contains a cyclic pyrrolidine side chain


Contains a phenyl moiety in its side



Contains an aromatic indole group

ii) Amino Acids with Polar Side Chains:

This class is more divided in two sub-classes:

a) Those having uncharged polar R groups:

Serine and Threonine - are polar due to their hydroxyl groups.

Asparagine and Glutamine -polarity is because of the presence of amide-bearing R groups.

Tyrosine - has an OH functional group attached to benzene ring. This OH is hydrophilic.

Cysteine - its thiol or (SH) group is responsible for its polarity.

b) Those with charged polar R groups:

At physiological pH values, Lysine, Arginine and Histidine are positively charged because of their terminal ammonium, guanidinium, and imidazolium groups respectively. These 3 amino acids are basic amino acids as their side chains have net positive charges at neutral pH.

Aspartic acid and Glutamic acid are negatively charged above pH 3. Such amino acids are also referred to as acidic amino acids as their side chain have acidic carboxyl group.

Categorization Based on Nutritional Requirements:

Few, but not all, of 20 common amino acids can be synthesized by body and as such, they may not be comprised in diet. On the basis of needs in our diet, amino acids have been grouped in:

i) Essential amino acids, and

ii) Nonessential amino acids

Those amino acids which can be synthesized in body are known as nonessential amino acids as they may not be incorporated in diet. In contrast, those amino acids which body can't synthesize de novo (from existing molecules) should be supplied in human/animal diet. Such amino acids are referred to as essential amino acids. If only one of these essential amino acids is missing from diet, synthesis of new protein by body will be affected. The majority bacteria and plants can synthesize all common amino acids.

Tutorsglobe: A way to secure high grade in your curriculum (Online Tutoring)

Expand your confidence, grow study skills and improve your grades.

Since 2009, Tutorsglobe has proactively helped millions of students to get better grades in school, college or university and score well in competitive tests with live, one-on-one online tutoring.

Using an advanced developed tutoring system providing little or no wait time, the students are connected on-demand with a tutor at Students work one-on-one, in real-time with a tutor, communicating and studying using a virtual whiteboard technology.  Scientific and mathematical notation, symbols, geometric figures, graphing and freehand drawing can be rendered quickly and easily in the advanced whiteboard.

Free to know our price and packages for online biology tutoring. Chat with us or submit request at