Dr Nelson Barrera a post-doctoral researcher in Chile, though experienced in membrane biochemistry, was a new recruit to mass spectrometry. He was largely unaware of the difficulties that had previously been encountered and approached the problem in a new way. Rather than trying to remove the detergent (used to keep the protein intact in solution once outside the natural membrane) he maintained the detergent in unusually high amounts. He then deliberately destroyed this protective detergent layer once in the gas phase. This allowed him to liberate the intact assembly. He was also able to remove units from the modular assembly in the gas phase, just as in solution.
Professor Robinson adds: "I am very excited by this finding given the importance of membrane complexes in guarding the entrance and exit to cells. The type of proteins we have been studying, for example, are involved in drug resistance in cancer cells and antibiotic resistance of bacteria.
"I look forward to exploiting this discovery to the full; not only in characterising the many membrane complexes for which controversy exists but also in discovering new assemblies and in investigating the potential of this approach in drug discovery."
Professor Paula Booth, at the University of Bristol added: "This is a major advance that helps us understand how nature constructs cellular life. The membrane wall of cells is a precision-made, complex and highly regulated structure. We are now much better equipped to understand this incredible, natural self-assembly feat."
|Contact: Genevieve Maul|
University of Cambridge