Bioengineering team creates self-forming tetrahedron protein

April 29, 2013 by Bob Yirka, report

Imaging of the assembled TET12 reveals tetrahedral topology. Credit: Nature Chemical Biology (2013) doi:10.1038/nchembio.1248
( —A combined team of researchers from the U.S. and Slovenia has succeeded in creating "origami" type proteins that assemble themselves into three dimensional shapes. As a proof of concept, the team created, as they describe in their paper published in the journal Nature Chemical Biology, a protein with coils that self-formed a true three dimensional tetrahedron.

For several years DNA "origami" has been in the news as bio-nanotechnologists have created strands that self-form into boxes, smiley faces etc. Since that time, the attention of many such researchers has switched over to doing the same, or better, with proteins—the thinking has been that such proteins would prove useful for medical or nano-engineering projects. Up until now, however, doing so has been slow going.

Proteins are long chains of (polypeptides) that, in nature, exist in many different shapes—their purpose is to perform services inside of cells to help keep them functioning properly. One of the most common structures is a coil—it like other protein structures holds its shape due to attraction between amino acids—the order of the acids in the chain helps determine which overall shape results. The researchers used this knowledge to create proteins that self-formed into new shapes.

To make the tetrahedron, the researchers began with proteins that already self-form into coils—in this case, 12 of them to represent each of the edges of the desired shape. Then, they added in a different type of amino acid to serve as both linker and joint holding the 12 coils together as a single chain. To bring the protein into existence, the team used genetically altered Escherichia coli as the host—it synthesized the protein, which then self-formed into the as planned—the first such structure to be created in a lab.

Creating customized three dimensional protein structures may soon lead to new ways to deliver medicine—molecules could be embedded inside of them for, example, and released by another chemical once it arrives at the right destination. Nanotechnologists are also interested in creating specific protein structures because of their possible use in creating bio-data-storage devices or other useful electronic materials.

Explore further: Researchers Tackling Unsolved Questions About Protein Structures

More information: Design of a single-chain polypeptide tetrahedron assembled from coiled-coil segments, Nature Chemical Biology (2013) doi:10.1038/nchembio.1248

Protein structures evolved through a complex interplay of cooperative interactions, and it is still very challenging to design new protein folds de novo. Here we present a strategy to design self-assembling polypeptide nanostructured polyhedra based on modularization using orthogonal dimerizing segments. We designed and experimentally demonstrated the formation of the tetrahedron that self-assembles from a single polypeptide chain comprising 12 concatenated coiled coil–forming segments separated by flexible peptide hinges. The path of the polypeptide chain is guided by a defined order of segments that traverse each of the six edges of the tetrahedron exactly twice, forming coiled-coil dimers with their corresponding partners. The coincidence of the polypeptide termini in the same vertex is demonstrated by reconstituting a split fluorescent protein in the polypeptide with the correct tetrahedral topology. Polypeptides with a deleted or scrambled segment order fail to self-assemble correctly. This design platform provides a foundation for constructing new topological polypeptide folds based on the set of orthogonal interacting polypeptide segments.

Related Stories

Unfolding 'nature's origami'

March 2, 2009

Sometimes known as "nature's origami", the way that proteins fold is vital to ensuring they function correctly. But researchers at the University of Leeds have discovered this is a 'hit and miss' process, with proteins potentially ...

A new tool to reveal structure of proteins

March 19, 2012

A new method to reveal the structure of proteins could help researchers understand biological molecules – both those involved in causing disease and those performing critical functions in healthy cells.

Protein folding made easy

June 7, 2011

Protein folding has nothing to do with laundry. It is, in fact, one of the central questions in biochemistry. Protein folding is the continual and universal process whereby the long, coiled strings of amino acids that make ...

Man-made proteins could be more useful than real ones

February 6, 2007

Researchers have constructed a protein out of amino acids not found in natural proteins, discovering that they can form a complex, stable structure that closely resembles a natural protein. Their findings could help scientists ...

Recommended for you

First microarrayed 3-D neuronal culture platform developed

November 14, 2018

Neuronal development is often regulated by the graded distribution of guidance molecules, which can either attract or repel the neuronal migration or neurite projection when presented in a format of concentration gradients, ...

Synthetic molecule invades double-stranded DNA

November 12, 2018

Carnegie Mellon University researchers have developed a synthetic molecule that can recognize and bind to double-stranded DNA or RNA under normal physiological conditions. The molecule could provide a new platform for developing ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (2) Apr 29, 2013
Starting from scratch like this is important since Nature is too clever to provide predictable engineering to guide the artificial design process. Instead of having to impossibly predict protein folding, just develop proteins that predictably fold in the first place. Bravo!

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.