Proteins: New class of materials discovered

August 22, 2014
Arrangement of protein concanavalin A molecules in two different protein crystalline frameworks. Credit: Fudan University/HZB

Scientists at the Helmholtz Center Berlin along with researchers at China's Fudan University have characterized a new class of materials called protein crystalline frameworks.

Thanks to certain helper substances, in PCFs proteins are fixated in a way so as to align themselves symmetrically, forming highly stable crystals. Next, the HZB and Fudan University researchers are planning on looking into how PCFs may be used as functional materials. Their findings are being published today in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

Proteins are sensitive molecules. Everyone knows that – at least from having boiled eggs. Under certain circumstances – like immersion in boiling water – they denature, losing their natural shape, and becoming hard. True, researchers have been able to handle these substances for some time now, even to the point of crystallizing them in their native state. Admittedly, though, this does require considerable effort, but it is the only way how researchers can find out the structure of these substances at high resolution. Moreover, are extremely fragile, highly sensitive and hard to handle.

Now, for the first time ever, scientists at China's Fudan University have managed to work around these downsides by linking the concanavalin A to helper molecules belonging to the sugar family, and to the dye rhodamin. The concanavalin molecules that have been thus fixated tended to arrange themselves symmetrically within the helper molecule framework, forming crystals, in which the proteins achieve high stability and are intricately interconnected – into a protein crystalline framework.

Arrangement of protein concanavalin A molecules in two different protein crystalline frameworks. Credit: Fudan University/HZB

Developing molecular structures like these is pointless unless you know exactly how they form and what their structure looks like at the level of the atoms. During the quest for suitable experimental methods, the Shanghai researchers turned to a Chinese scientist working at the HZB for help. She called her colleagues' attention to the MX beamlines at the HZB's electron storage ring BESSY II.

"Here at the HZB, we were able to offer them our highly specialized crystallography stations – the perfect venue for characterizing PCFs at high resolutions," says Dr. Manfred Weiss, one of the leading scientists working at the HZB-MX laboratory. It quickly became clear that the helper molecules even allowed the researchers to decide how powerfully they wanted them to penetrate the protein frameworks. "This gives the PCFs a great deal of flexibility and variability, which we'll always keep in mind when doing research on potential applications," says Manfred Weiss.

Explore further: Boosting research into new drugs: 'Smart materials' make proteins form crystals

More information: Sakai, F. et al. Protein crystalline frameworks with controllable interpenetration directed by dual supramolecular interactions. Nat. Commun. 5:4634 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms5634 (2014).

Related Stories

Watching catalysts at work—at the atomic scale

July 25, 2013

Scientists of Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and collaborators have now combined the spectroscopic method "RIXS" with so-called ab initio theory in order to describe these processes in detail for a model organometallic catalyst ...

Blocking the active site of thiolase

November 7, 2013

Scientists at the University of Oulu, Finland, and at the Helmholtz Center Berlin (HZB) have shown the way to new directions in drug development against African sleeping sickness and other tropical parasitic infections. This ...

Chemist develops X-ray vision for quality assurance

July 24, 2014

It is seldom sufficient to read the declaration of contents if you need to know precisely what substances a product contains. In fact, to do this you need to be a highly skilled chemist or to have genuine X-ray vision so ...

Free pores for molecule transport

July 31, 2014

Metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) can take up gases similar to a sponge that soaks up liquids. Hence, these highly porous materials are suited for storing hydrogen or greenhouse gases. However, loading of many MOFs is inhibited ...

Recommended for you

Brazilian wasp venom kills cancer cells by opening them up

September 1, 2015

The social wasp Polybia paulista protects itself against predators by producing venom known to contain a powerful cancer-fighting ingredient. A Biophysical Journal study published September 1 reveals exactly how the venom's ...

Naturally-occurring protein enables slower-melting ice cream

August 31, 2015

(Phys.org)—Scientists have developed a slower-melting ice cream—consider the advantages the next time a hot summer day turns your child's cone with its dream-like mound of orange, vanilla and lemon swirls with chocolate ...

Antibody-making bacteria promise drug development

August 31, 2015

Monoclonal antibodies, proteins that bind to and destroy foreign invaders in our bodies, routinely are used as therapeutic agents to fight a wide range of maladies including breast cancer, leukemia, asthma, arthritis, psoriasis, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.