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What Is Collagen?


This is a micrograph of collagen fibers.

This atomic force micrograph gives a highly magnified view of the fibrils that make up a collagen fiber.

Argonne National Lab

Collagen is a protein made up of amino acids that is found in the human body. Here's a look at what collagen is and how it is used in the body.

Collagen Facts

Like all proteins, collagen consists of amino acids, organic molecules made from carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. "Collagen" actually is a family of proteins rather than one specific protein, plus it is a complex molecule, so you won't see a simple chemical structure for it. Usually you'll see diagrams showing collagen as a fiber. It is the most common protein in humans and other mammals, making up 25% to 35% of the total protein content of your body. Fibroblasts are the cells that most commonly produce collagen.

Functions of Collagen

Collagen fibers support body tissues, plus collagen is a major component of the extracellular matrix that supports cells. Collagen and keratin give the skin its strength, waterproofing, and elasticity. Loss of collagen is a cause of wrinkles.

Connective tissue consists primarily of collagen. Collagen forms fibrils that provide the structure for fibrous tissue, such as ligaments, tendons and skin. Collagen also is found in cartilage, bone, blood vessels, the cornea of the eye, intervertebral discs, muscles, and the gastrointestinal tract.

Other Uses of Collagen

Collagen-based animal glues may be made by boiling the skin and sinews of animals. Collagen is one of the proteins that gives strength and flexibility to animal hides and leather. Collagen is used in cosmetic treatments and burn surgery. Some sausage casings are made from this protein. Collagen is used to produce gelatin. Gelatin is hydrolyzed collagen. It is used in gelatin desserts (e.g., Jell-O) and marshmallows.

More About Collagen

Gelatin Made from Human Collagen
How Jell-O Works
Why Pineapple Keeps Gelatin from Setting
Why Marshmallows and Gelatin Aren't Vegetarian

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