In their paper, the researchers describe how by altering the amino acids at one or more of just 12 sites on the predator protein, the phage are able to generate 10 trillion proteins, each with the potential to bind to a different prey protein. This variability arises as DNA is being copied into the RNA blueprint for the protein. The sequence of DNA bases at the 12 sites has unique characteristics that cause frequent mistakes to be made in the copying process. As a result, the RNA ends up specifying a different amino acid, and a protein with different structural and chemical properties is created.
Antibodies are another type predator protein that must respond to rapidly evolving prey proteins, because microorganisms are constantly altering proteins on their surfaces to evade the immune system. Unlike the phage protein, antibodies have a complicated loop structure. The size of the loops varies in addition to the amino acid building blocks that constitute the antibody protein. Although this mechanism can generate more than 100 trillion different antibodies, the researchers say replicating it in a test tube would be very challenging because the loops would have the tendency to fold incorrectly.
"Because of its stability, the phage protein makes a better model to create protein diversity in a test tube," explained Jason Miller, a graduate student in Ghosh's lab who conducted much of the research. "Our discovery shows that nature has provided at least two completely different methods to generate a huge amount of protein variability, and it opens up a whole new platform for protein development."
Other contributors to the paper were Jeffrey Lawton, Department of Chemistry, Eastern University; Donald Kerkow, The Scripps Research Institute; Marc Marti-Renom, Eswar Narayanan, and Andrej Sali, Department
Source:University of California - San Diego