Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the University of California, San Diego, have created the first computer simulation of full-system protein folding thermodynamics at the atomic-level. Understanding the basic physics of protein folding could solve one of the grand mysteries of computational biology.
Proteins are the basic building blocks of life and protein folding, the process by which proteins reconfigure themselves - the actions that result in structural change - are the foundation of cellular growth and the health of a biological system. When proteins incorrectly fold the malfunction can give rise to a variety of diseases. The fact that proteins fold has been known since the 1960s, but an understanding of the chemical and physical properties of folding continues to elude scientists.
Understanding how proteins undergo the folding process has largely been studied from a biologist’s point of view, probing actual proteins and studying them with high-powered microscopy techniques. Now, Los Alamos theoretical biophysicist Angel Garcia, along with colleague Jose N. Onuchic of UC San Diego, have created a computer model of protein folding that focuses on the physics of the protein folding, specifically looking at the temperature changes that occur in the process.
Kevin Roark | EurekAlert!
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Proteins must be folded correctly to fulfill their molecular functions in cells. Molecular assistants called chaperones help proteins exploit their inbuilt folding potential and reach the correct three-dimensional structure. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (MPIB) have demonstrated that actin, the most abundant protein in higher developed cells, does not have the inbuilt potential to fold and instead requires special assistance to fold into its active state. The chaperone TRiC uses a previously undescribed mechanism to perform actin folding. The study was recently published in the journal Cell.
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