Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education



Front Page

World

UK

UK Politics

Business

Sci/Tech

Health

Education

Sport

Entertainment

Talking Point

In Depth

On Air

Archive
Feedback
Low Graphics
Help

Monday, May 10, 1999 Published at 23:02 GMT 00:02 UK


Sci/Tech

Lab builds largest bio-molecule



This is a computer representation of the largest man-made protein ever created.

Designed and built entirely in the laboratory, it marks a significant achievement for scientists trying to make the complex biological molecules that assemble and maintain the body.

Proteins are involved in all the biochemical reactions that sustain life and researchers would like to be able to turn them out to order. They also want to design and build completely new shapes not seen in nature.

This would allow them to create a whole range of new drugs and novel materials.

The molecules are made from a chain of chemical units called amino acids which are relatively easy to synthesise in the laboratory.

Specific shape

But scientists have found it extremely difficult to get these chains to fold up into the very specific shapes that make the molecules active and useful.

Nature has little problem achieving this extraordinary feat, but it has taken protein engineering labs around the world many years to create even the simplest of molecules made up of about 25 to 30 amino acids.

The new protein created by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center comprises 73 amino acids.

Called alpha-3D, it is a bundle of three counterclockwise-coiling helices whose general shape was inspired by a protein found in the common household bacteria Staphylococcus aureus.

Entirely new proteins

The Penn researchers are now trying to manipulate their molecule to give it some useful function such as the ability to bind to a variety of hormonal receptors.

Natural proteins that do this are expensive to produce and suffer from limited shelf-lives.

News of alpha-3D's creation is reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Lead author Professor William DeGrado says the research is a big step forward.

"The ability to do this really takes us out of the realm of tinkering with existing proteins to engineering entirely new proteins and polymers.

"We have shown that it is now possible to design a protein with a well-defined three-dimensional structure."





Advanced options | Search tips




Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©


Sci/Tech Contents


Relevant Stories

24 Jan 99 | Anaheim 99
Creating artificial bugs





Internet Links


Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics - University of Pennsylvania

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.




In this section

World's smallest transistor

Scientists join forces to study Arctic ozone

Mathematicians crack big puzzle

From Business
The growing threat of internet fraud

Who watches the pilots?

From Health
Cold 'cure' comes one step closer