Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

New understanding of how big molecules bind will lead to better drugs, synthetic organic materials

25.02.2008
Bacteria can be made to spin spider silk

Biological and medical research is on the threshold of a new era based on better understanding of how large organic molecules bind together and recognise each other. There is great potential for exploiting the molecular docking processes that are commonplace in all organisms to develop new drugs that act more specifically without adverse side effects, and construct novel materials by mimicking nature.

A recent workshop on Biosupramolecular Chemistry organised by the European Science Foundation (ESF) strengthened Europe’s platform for progress towards these goals by bringing together scientists in the relevant fields and identifying key research targets. The workshop also identified some applications close to fruition, including the engineering of bacteria to produce silks as strong for their thickness as spider webs. It has been a longstanding challenge to emulate the mechanical properties of spider silk, which combines stiffness and tensile strength with the ability to become elastic under high strains to protect against destruction. A recent project led by Thomas Scheibel at the Technical University of Munich is close to a solution that could have a host of practical applications ranging from biodegradable fishing line to body armour.

The artificial spider silk production exemplified the expertise and skills required for successful applications in biosupramolecular chemistry, in this case by combining genetic engineering with sophisticated micro-manipulation techniques to optimise production of the desired material. Firstly genes were inserted into the bacteria to produce proteins as similar as possible to spider silk. Then microfluidic approaches, dealing with fluids at very small scales, were used to fabricate the silk. Finally the mechanical properties were optimised further by substituting some of the amino acid components of the proteins.

... more about:
»Component »ESF »Molecules »Organic »interactions »silk

Other applications of biosupramolecular chemistry are further off, but coming into range, according to the ESF workshop convenor, Professor Anthony Davis from Bristol University in the UK. But the most important aspect of the ESF workshop was the bringing together of scientists in two previously distinct fields, said Davis. “Our main aim was to get two groups of scientists talking to each other - the supramolecular chemists, and a group of biologists who might be termed ‘biomolecular engineers’,” said Davis. “Certainly this objective was fulfilled.” Supramolecular chemists study and manipulate the interactions between molecules in general, while biomolecular engineers specialise in exploiting the large organic molecules found in Nature.

Biological macromolecules include proteins comprising amino acids, complex carbohydrates made from simpler sugar molecules, as well as both RNA and DNA made from nucleic acids. Unlike small molecules, these large constructions exhibit multiple chemical properties at different parts of their surface, which means that interactions between them depend on geometrical features. It is the geometrical arrangement of the component parts, as much as their chemical identity, that determines how a macromolecule will behave and interact with other molecules both large and small. Some molecules will only react or bind with certain others, often temporarily, on a “lock and key” basis determined by the relative shapes of the surface. Such transient associations between large molecules (supramolecules) are very important in biology, for example in the binding between antibodies and antigens in the immune response, and also between an enzyme and its substrate, i.e. the compound it is acting upon.

These looser interactions between large molecules are called non-covalent because they do not involve sharing of electrons, but instead exploit variations in electrical charge distribution in their vicinity. Since each individual bond is weak, non-covalent bonding relies on the collective strength of multiple bonds and is therefore only a viable mechanism for joining larger molecules together.

As well as being important for temporary binding, non-covalent bonding forces are also essential for maintaining the structure of large proteins, and for the DNA double helix, on a longer term basis, by holding the components together. This is a very complex subject given the huge number of combinations of components involved, and so a significant advance reported at the ESF Biosupramolecular conference by Andrei Lupas from the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Germany was of a dictionary representing proteins by motifs, that is smaller coherent arrangements of its constituent amino acids, derived from studying their evolutionary history. Lupas showed how such a dictionary could be used to derive evolutionary relationships between proteins. This could have great application in evolutionary biology and also for determining the role of proteins whose function is as yet largely unknown, as well as understanding diseases where protein interactions go wrong.

Having identified many promising avenues of research, the ESF workshop is likely to be followed up by further meetings, according to Davis.”We hope to organise another meeting in 2009, and maybe keep going to create a regular series of symposia.”

Anthony Davis | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.bristol.ac.uk

Further reports about: Component ESF Molecules Organic interactions silk

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Lethal combination: Drug cocktail turns off the juice to cancer cells
12.12.2018 | Universität Basel

nachricht Smelling the forest – not the trees
12.12.2018 | Universität Konstanz

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Lethal combination: Drug cocktail turns off the juice to cancer cells

A widely used diabetes medication combined with an antihypertensive drug specifically inhibits tumor growth – this was discovered by researchers from the University of Basel’s Biozentrum two years ago. In a follow-up study, recently published in “Cell Reports”, the scientists report that this drug cocktail induces cancer cell death by switching off their energy supply.

The widely used anti-diabetes drug metformin not only reduces blood sugar but also has an anti-cancer effect. However, the metformin dose commonly used in the...

Im Focus: New Foldable Drone Flies through Narrow Holes in Rescue Missions

A research team from the University of Zurich has developed a new drone that can retract its propeller arms in flight and make itself small to fit through narrow gaps and holes. This is particularly useful when searching for victims of natural disasters.

Inspecting a damaged building after an earthquake or during a fire is exactly the kind of job that human rescuers would like drones to do for them. A flying...

Im Focus: Topological material switched off and on for the first time

Key advance for future topological transistors

Over the last decade, there has been much excitement about the discovery, recognised by the Nobel Prize in Physics only two years ago, that there are two types...

Im Focus: Researchers develop method to transfer entire 2D circuits to any smooth surface

What if a sensor sensing a thing could be part of the thing itself? Rice University engineers believe they have a two-dimensional solution to do just that.

Rice engineers led by materials scientists Pulickel Ajayan and Jun Lou have developed a method to make atom-flat sensors that seamlessly integrate with devices...

Im Focus: Three components on one chip

Scientists at the University of Stuttgart and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) succeed in important further development on the way to quantum Computers.

Quantum computers one day should be able to solve certain computing problems much faster than a classical computer. One of the most promising approaches is...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

ICTM Conference 2019: Digitization emerges as an engineering trend for turbomachinery construction

12.12.2018 | Event News

New Plastics Economy Investor Forum - Meeting Point for Innovations

10.12.2018 | Event News

EGU 2019 meeting: Media registration now open

06.12.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

How skin cells protect themselves against stress

12.12.2018 | Life Sciences

Copper compound as promising quantum computing unit

12.12.2018 | Life Sciences

New approach towards an improved treatment of anxiety disorders

12.12.2018 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>