Scientists Develop New Method for Creating Customized Proteins

A team of scientists, led by Imperial College London, have developed a new method for creating customized proteins. By using a repetitive protein as a scaffold, the team was able to add individual modules to create a new protein. The findings are in a paper just published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Proteins are molecules that perform a ton of different functions, including many that are critical for supporting life. The development of customized proteins could allow scientists to produce new biomaterials and medications. Current methods involve stitching parts of existing proteins together to create new ones. While the method works, it’s not very flexible and requires scientists to use existing protein structures.

Researchers collaborated to design a better method for developing customized proteins. They used a repetitive protein as a scaffold, providing a backbone for the addition of modules. Computationally designed modules can be added one at a time, allowing researchers to create proteins that can be customized at an atomic level. The team was able to build a protein based on a computerized protein design. The researchers checked the resulting molecule using X-ray crystallography and confirmed that their process had worked. This strategy, once perfected, would be much more flexible than existing methods.

The findings will help researchers improve current methods for developing new proteins. The team’s strategy, utilizing a repeating protein as a backbone, is still in the early experimental stages. The research team had created a protein with a single module to test the viability of the repeating protein scaffold. The researchers are continuing their research to test whether more complex proteins would still function as intended. As the technique is further refined, scientists will be able to create new nanomaterials. Other possible applications include the development of synthetic enzymes capable of producing novel products, specialized proteins for medical use, and nanowire batteries.


James T. MacDonald et al. Synthetic beta-solenoid proteins with the fragment-free computational design of a beta-hairpin extension. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2016).

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