Using a rare metal that's not utilized by nature, Rice University chemists have created a synthetic enzyme that could help unlock the identities of thousands of difficult-to-study proteins, including many that play key roles in cancer and other diseases.
The research was published online this week in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
"We have combined the chemical capabilities of rhodium with what biology already knows about recognizing and selecting specific proteins," said study co-author Zachary Ball, assistant professor of chemistry at Rice. "The result is a tool that, in many ways, is more powerful than any biological or chemical approach alone."
Ball began studying dirhodium catalysts more than three years ago. He did not start out trying to create enzymes with them, but he was intrigued by a study that showed dirhodium catalysts could be used to modify tryptophan, one of the 21 amino acids that are the basic building blocks of life.
Catalysts enhance chemical reactions by increasing the rate of reaction without being consumed themselves. In living things, proteins called enzymes serve the same purpose. But unlike many inorganic catalysts, enzymes are very selective. In a process that biologists often liken to a "lock and key," enzymes associate only with molecules that match their shape exactly. This prevents them from spurring extraneous reactions throughout the cell.
Ball and postdoctoral research associate Brian Popp wondered if they could marry the selectivity of enzymatic reactions with a rhodium-based catalyst. They tested the idea by attaching their catalyst to a short segment of protein that can wrap with other proteins, like strands of rope fiber. This "coiled coil" wrapping motif is common in biology, particularly in signaling proteins. Signaling proteins are those that activate or deactivate key processes like apoptosis, the "programmed death" response that's known to play a key role in cancer.
"Signaling pathways are like a trail of dominos," Ball said. "Dozens of proteins can be involved, and they interact one after the other in a cascade. In most cases, the interactions are both fleeting and weak. They are difficult to observe with traditional methods, and as a result we are still in the dark about the roles that key signaling proteins play in health and disease."
Ball said his and Popp's synthetic enzyme strategy might help solve that problem. In their tests, the chemists were able to develop synthetic enzymes that could selectively bind with proteins and attach tags that would allow biologists to identify them.
In addition to tryptophan, the method worked with phenylalanine and tyrosine, two amino acids commonly found in signaling proteins. And recent unpublished studies indicate the researchers' strategy might work for even more amino acids.
Ball said the process must be refined before it can be used in the majority of biology labs, but he and Popp are already working toward realizing broad applications of the strategy.
The research was funded by the Welch Foundation and Rice University.
Jade Boyd | EurekAlert!
Bare bones: Making bones transparent
27.04.2017 | California Institute of Technology
Link Discovered between Immune System, Brain Structure and Memory
26.04.2017 | Universität Basel
More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.
Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...
Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.
"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
03.04.2017 | Event News
27.04.2017 | Life Sciences
27.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
27.04.2017 | Earth Sciences