November 8, 2012
Proteins made to order. Researchers at the IPD design proteins from scratch with predictable structures
Scientists at the IPD describe a set of “rules” for the design of proteins from scratch in the latest issue of Nature.
Proteins are an enormous molecular achievement: chains of amino acids that fold spontaneously into a precise conformation, time after time, optimized by evolution for their particular function. Yet given the exponential number of contortions possible for any chain of amino acids, dictating a sequence that will fold into a predictable structure has been a daunting task.
Now researchers report that they can do just that. By following a set of rules described in a paper published in Nature today1, a team from David Baker’s laboratory at the University of Washington in Seattle has designed five proteins from scratch that fold reliably into predicted conformations. In a blind test, the team showed that the synthesized proteins closely match the predicted structures.
One might wonder how designing a new protein from scratch could be better than starting with natural proteins, given the head start that nature has in evolving effective functions and stable conformations. In fact, evolution has honed the structures of many proteins so precisely that it can be difficult to get the backbone to budge into another conformation to accommodate a new function, Baker says. “This paper provides the opportunity to design the structure and function at the same time,” says Baker. “Rather than taking an already existing scaffold, now you can design a backbone to order for exactly the function you want to carry out.” That will be the next step — incorporating function into the designs.
Read the full article here.