Beautiful Science: Designer Proteins

Computer visualization image of amino acid strands folded into proteins

Proteins are one of nature’s most precious gift to living organisms. Our bodies make roughly 20,000 different kinds of proteins that perform mission-critical tasks such as ferrying oxygen through the body, digesting food and fighting diseases. Shapes are the key to each protein’s unique function. Some proteins are shaped like molecular sheets. Others are sculpted into cubes, fibres, tunnels, and even scissors. How the body makes proteins is a wondrous story. Each protein in nature is encoded by a gene. With that stretch of DNA as a guide, a cell assembles a corresponding protein from building blocks known as amino acids. Chains of amino acids fold into protein shapes based on nature’s secret instructions. The chains may stretch dozens, hundreds or even thousands of units long. Once the cell finishes, the chain folds on itself and in a blink of any eye, a topologically beautiful protein emerges.

The mechanism behind this folding process has eluded science until recently. With the aid of powerful computers and crowd-sourced processing, scientists led by Dr. David Baker at the University of Washington, have figured out how to build proteins to supplement the ones that have evolved by nature. For now, scientists can only synthesize short-chained proteins. But it is a good start; nature’s genie has been unlocked.

TED Talk by Dr. David Baker – 5 Challenges We Could Solve by Designing New Proteins


A new deep-learning approach to computationally-aided protein design:

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