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Casein (// or //, from Latin caseus, "cheese") is the name for a family of related phosphoproteins (αS1, αS2, β, κ). These proteins are commonly found in mammalian milk, making up 80% of the proteins in cow's milk and between 20% and 45% of the proteins in human milk. Casein has a wide variety of uses, from being a major component of cheese, to use as a food additive, to a binder for safety matches. As a food source, casein supplies amino acids, carbohydrates, and the two inorganic elements calcium and phosphorus.
Casein contains a high number of proline residues, which do not interact. There are also no disulfide bridges. As a result, it has relatively little tertiary structure. It is relatively hydrophobic, making it poorly soluble in water. It is found in milk as a suspension of particles, called casein micelles, which show only limited resemblance with surfactant-type micelles in a sense that the hydrophilic parts reside at the surface and they are spherical. However, in sharp contrast to surfactant micelles, the interior of a casein micelle is highly hydrated. The caseins in the micelles are held together by calcium ions and hydrophobic interactions. Any of several molecular models could account for the special conformation of casein in the micelles. One of them proposes the micellar nucleus is formed by several submicelles, the periphery consisting of microvellosities of κ-casein. Another model suggests the nucleus is formed by casein-interlinked fibrils. Finally, the most recent model proposes a double link among the caseins for gelling to take place. All three models consider micelles as colloidal particles formed by casein aggregates wrapped up in soluble κ-casein molecules.
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