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From Biology-Online Dictionary | Biology-Online Dictionary
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noun, plural: denaturations

(1) (biochemistry) A process in which the folding structure of a protein is altered due to exposure to certain chemical or physical factors (e.g. heat, acid, solvents, etc.), causing the protein to become biologically inactive

(2) (biochemistry) A process in which the structure of nucleic acid is disrupted, such as the dissociation of a double stranded DNA into a single stranded state by heating

(3) The process of making food or drink (e.g. alcohol) unfit for human consumption by the deliberate addition of a noxious substance


In biochemisty, denaturation refers to a process where a macromolecule, such as a nuclei acid or a protein, is altered structurally due to exposure to extreme physical conditions. Biological proteins (such as enzymes) unfold and lose their active state when exposed to denaturing agents (e.g. strong acids or bases, heat, solvents, and salts). This is crucial especially when enzymes lose their structure and function as catalysts. The substrates can no longer bind to the active site, and biochemical process is therefore disrupted. The proteins can regain their natural active state if the denaturing agent is removed. However, there are instances in which the process is irreversible. In another example, heating a double stranded DNA could lead to its denaturation as it turns into a single stranded molecule.

Not all denaturation processes though lead to a change in structure. For instance, the addition of a noxious substance to a food or drink does not necessarily change the structure of the latter. A denatured alcohol, for example, would make it unpalatable to deter human consumption.

Related term(s):

Related form(s):

  • denature (verb)
  • denatured (adjective)