We take note on the days when a new topic enters our realm, and so today we link out to a story about the human body’s myriad protein needs and scientific progress on addressing those needs. Thanks as always to Carl Zimmer for making this easier for a lay person to understand:
The human body makes tens of thousands of cellular proteins, each for a particular task. Now researchers have learned to create custom versions not found in nature.
Our bodies make roughly 20,000 different kinds of proteins, from the collagen in our skin to the hemoglobin in our blood. Some take the shape of molecular sheets. Others are sculpted into fibers, boxes, tunnels, even scissors.
A protein’s particular shape enables it to do a particular job, whether ferrying oxygen through the body or helping to digest food.
Scientists have studied proteins for nearly two centuries, and over that time they’ve worked out how cells create them from simple building blocks. They have long dreamed of assembling those elements into new proteins not found in nature.
But they’ve been stumped by one great mystery: how the building blocks in a protein take their final shape. David Baker, 55, the director of the Institute for Protein Design at the University of Washington, has been investigating that enigma for a quarter-century.
Now, it looks as if he and his colleagues have cracked it. Thanks in part to crowdsourced computers and smartphones belonging to over a million volunteers, the scientists have figured out how to choose the building blocks required to create a protein that will take on the shape they want.
In a series of papers published this year, Dr. Baker and his colleagues unveiled the results of this work. They have produced thousands of different kinds of proteins, which assume the shape the scientists had predicted. Often those proteins are profoundly different from any found in nature.
This expertise has led to a profound scientific advance: cellular proteins designed by man, not by nature. “We can now build proteins from scratch from first principles to do what we want,” said Dr. Baker…
Read the whole story here.