Researchers engineer new proteins to help solve global problems

April 5, 2018, Victoria University

Researchers from Victoria University of Wellington's Ferrier Research Institute have made significant progress in the science of protein engineering, achieving a breakthrough which has implications for tackling global problems from diseases to climate change.

Dr. Effie Fan and Professor Emily Parker, along with other researchers from the Maurice Wilkins Centre, have created a new approach to engineering inspired by natural evolution. Using their method, they have successfully combined different parts of natural proteins to form new proteins.

"Successfully combining different parts of natural proteins to create new, fully functioning proteins is something that has never been done before," says Dr. Fan. "By using fully functioning parts of a natural protein as a starting point, we can make the process of protein engineering much faster and more effective. This is a huge step forward for ."

This research has implications for everything from vaccines to crop growth.

"Everything in nature, from humans to bacteria, is made of proteins, and through evolution proteins can change in a certain way to solve certain problems – like making people immune to a ," says Dr. Fan. "But evolution is a slow process, and there are some problems – like cancer, viral epidemics, and climate change – that we don't have time for nature to solve on its own. The goal of our field of science is to manipulate proteins in the lab to solve these problems soon."

Dr. Fan and Professor Parker's research has specific implications for antibiotic development.

The Victoria University research team used proteins that are part of the bacteria that cause tuberculosis and gastric cancer in their research.

"Now that we can manipulate the proteins in these bacteria, we know more about how the proteins work and how they help the bacteria cause disease. We can use this knowledge to help create antibiotics to help fight these diseases, many of which are currently resistant to modern antibiotics."

The proteins found in these specific are also found in many other living organisms. Because the proteins are so common, the techniques developed by the team could also be used to manipulate proteins in other ways to help with other global .

The research was recently published in the U.S. National Academy of Science's official scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Explore further: Natural sniper kills hospital bacterium

More information: Yifei Fan et al. Exploring modular allostery via interchangeable regulatory domains, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2018). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1717621115

Related Stories

Natural sniper kills hospital bacterium

March 20, 2018

Bacteria produce proteins to take out specific competitors. One of these proteins can kill the hospital bacterium pseudomonas aeruginosa. Microbial geneticists at KU Leuven, Belgium, have unraveled how this protein launches ...

Got starch? There's bacteria in your gut for that

February 1, 2018

Soft foods like white bread and rice might seem like an easy thing for your body to digest, but a tiny organism in your gut is actually responsible for chowing down some types of starch and turning it into nutrients your ...

How bacteria manipulate plants

February 22, 2018

Attack at the protein front: Xanthomonas bacteria causes disease in tomato and pepper plants and injects harmful proteins into plant cells. Researchers from Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU), the University ...

Recommended for you

How quinoa plants shed excess salt and thrive in saline soils

September 21, 2018

Barely heard of a couple of years ago, quinoa today is common on European supermarket shelves. The hardy plant thrives even in saline soils. Researchers from the University of Würzburg have now determined how the plant gets ...

Decoding the structure of an RNA-based CRISPR system

September 20, 2018

Over the past several years, CRISPR-Cas9 has moved beyond the lab bench and into the public zeitgeist. This gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 holds promise for correcting defects inside individual cells and potentially healing ...

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.