If Guinness World Records had a category for the largest human-designed protein, then a team of Vanderbilt chemists would have just claimed it.
They have designed and successfully synthesized a variant of a protein that nature uses to manufacture the essential amino acid histidine. It is more than twice the size of the previous record holder, a protein created by researchers at the University of Washington in 2003.
The synthetic protein, designated FLR, validates a new approach which the Vanderbilt scientists have developed that allows them to design functional artificial proteins substantially larger than previously possible.
"We now have the algorithms we need to engineer large proteins with shapes that you don't see in nature. This gives us the tools we need to create new, more effective antibodies and other beneficial proteins," said Jens Meiler, the associate professor of chemistry at Vanderbilt who led the effort.
Recently, protein engineers have verified a potential treatment strategy for HIV by using designed protein vaccines in mice and have designed artificial proteins that mimic antibodies in broadly neutralizing flu infections. The technique developed at Vanderbilt promises to expand the scope of these efforts substantially.
That is important because proteins are the most important molecules in living cells. They perform most of the vital tasks that take place within a living organism. There are hundreds of thousands of different proteins. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They can be round or long and thin, rigid or flexible. But they are all made out of linear chains of 20 amino acids encoded in the genome of the organism.
Proteins assume this variety of shapes and sizes by the manner in which they bunch and fold. This complex process takes two steps. First, small numbers of adjacent amino acids form what scientists call secondary structures: the most common of which are a rod-like spiral
|Contact: David F. Salisbury|