With the aid of more than 70,000 home computer users throughout the world, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) researchers have, for the first time, accurately predicted the three-dimensional structure of a small, naturally occurring globular protein using only its amino acid sequence. The accomplishment was achieved with a newly refined computational method for predicting protein structure, which the researchers say can also improve the detail and accuracy of protein structures generated with experimental techniques.
A detailed understanding of a proteins structure can offer scientists a wealth of information revealing intricacies about the proteins biological function and suggesting new ideas for drug design. Researchers often rely on x-ray crystallography to determine a proteins structure bombarding the molecule with x-rays and analyzing the resulting diffraction pattern to piece together its structure. But not all proteins are amenable to this time-consuming technique, and those that are do not always yield the atomic-level data researchers would like to have.
Computational techniques -- such as the one described by HHMI investigator David Baker and colleagues in an October 14, 2007, advance online publication in the journal Nature can complement this approach. Baker and his colleagues at the University of Washington and the University of Cambridge in England have shown that their technique can predict protein structure with remarkable accuracy. Their methods will help structural biologists overcome a challenge commonly known as the crystallographic phase problem.
The complex algorithms the researchers developed to carry out these analyses demand a tremendous amount of computing power. More than 70,000 home computer users around the world were an integral part of the project, volunteering their computers to participate in the quest for protein structures through Rosetta@home, a distributed computing project that is based on the Berkeley Op
|Contact: Jim Keeley|
Howard Hughes Medical Institute