A new way to create synthetic proteins could lead to more flexible designs

August 30, 2016 by Hayley Dunning, Imperial College London

Building up proteins from scratch, rather than piecing together fragments of existing proteins, could make designing new nanomaterials easier.

Proteins perform a myriad of functions essential for life. They also make up important and useful biological materials, for example spider silk, which is exceptionally strong but still flexible.

The ability to design completely new proteins would help scientists create nanomaterials that, like , have a specific microstructure that confers useful properties.

Until now, new proteins have usually been designed by piecing together fragments of existing proteins in order to simplify the design process.

Now, a team led by researchers from Imperial College London has used a synthetic repeating protein scaffold as a base and shown that it is possible to add individual computationally designed modules, which can be chosen for their ability to perform a specific function. This gives biological engineers the possibility of designing new molecules from scratch.

The base scaffold is a new artificial repeating helix to which functional modules can be added. The team designed the structure on a computer, created it using synthetic genes, and then used a technique called X-ray crystallography to confirm they had built what they set out to.

BUILDING COMPLEXITY

Study leader Dr James Murray from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial said: "Our system would allow designers to create proteins with atoms in specific places and build up complexity module by module, rather than designing the all at once."

Dr James MacDonald from Imperial's Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation added: "We have developed a new method for computationally designing brand new proteins that is potentially more flexible than taking sections from known proteins."

The team's first experimental results, published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, added just one module to a helical scaffold as a proof that the system could work. Next, they want to add more loops to build up new functionality, and then test whether the perform as expected.

Professor Paul Freemont, co-founder and co-director of the Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation at Imperial, said: "Being able to construct proteins at the atomic level has a lot of potential and exciting applications, including synthetic enzymes and new nanomaterials.

These could include improved nanowire batteries, where viruses are programmed to produce thin wires that increase the surface area and performance of batteries."

Explore further: How to meet demand in bacterial 'factories'

More information: 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). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1525308113

Related Stories

How to meet demand in bacterial 'factories'

May 16, 2016

The battle over bacterial resources is coming to an end, thanks to research from the University of Bristol. The study describes a new way to model productivity in bacteria used as mini-factories to produce valuable biological ...

Researchers create designer 'barrel' proteins

October 23, 2014

Proteins are long linear molecules that fold up to form well-defined 3D shapes. These 3D molecular architectures are essential for biological functions such as the elasticity of skin, the digestion of food, and the transport ...

Recommended for you

Coffee-based colloids for direct solar absorption

March 22, 2019

Solar energy is one of the most promising resources to help reduce fossil fuel consumption and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to power a sustainable future. Devices presently in use to convert solar energy into thermal ...

EPA adviser is promoting harmful ideas, scientists say

March 22, 2019

The Trump administration's reliance on industry-funded environmental specialists is again coming under fire, this time by researchers who say that Louis Anthony "Tony" Cox Jr., who leads a key Environmental Protection Agency ...

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.