Thursday, November 29, 2012

Method devised to build our own proteins

Proteins are the basic building blocks of cells, and they have all sorts of functions. Some of them appear as true building blocks that hold the cell together, but others catalyse chemical reactions in the body, and are known as enzymes. There is an enourmous variety in the functions that proteins can perform, which is basically governed by their shape. Proteins are created from long chains that automatically fold into the right position. This folding process is what interests scientists, because we can use it to make our own proteins. A group of scientists has now devised a set of principles to actually make this happen.

Structure of a protein
A protein starts of as a string of genetic information that needs to be translated to amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. These amino acids are connected to each other, forming a large string. Because of the properties of individual amino acids, secondary structures start to form, resulting in a protein that is basically bent into shape. The composition of the amino acid string decides how a protein is folded, and this process is exactly what scientists need to understand in order to be able to create artificial proteins.

Because there are millions of different proteins that each have an individual composition, there is a lot of data to be analyzed to find out exactly how this process folding occurs. A calculation program, called Rosetta@Home, provided the necessary calculation power. This program utilizes 'unused' processing power from the computer it runs on. Because thousands of volunteers have installed Rosetta@Home, a lot of protein folding data has been crunched over the last years.

The analysis of the data that was gathered by Rosetta@Home, conducted by the University of Washington Protein Design Institute, revealed certain principles that we can use to make our own proteins. These principles were not detailed, but will be published later this month. According to the scientists, their set of principles predicts a folding pattern that is the most likely to occur from a string of amino acids. That means a lot of research still needs to be done to validate the findings, by showing that we can indeed make our own designed proteins. In addition, we need to be able to translate form to function, which is even harder to do. But in the end, designing our own proteins could very well lead to novel cures that target diseases in which proteins are, for example, malformed.

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