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UW Researchers Create Computer-Generated Protein Filaments

By December 5, 2018No Comments

Imagine microscopic Lego blocks perfectly snapping together to form long, tube-like structures. This is not the latest kids toy –– it is a self-assembling protein filament made completely by technology.

For the first time, researchers at the UW Baker Lab developed self-assembling protein filaments, a key component of cell cytoskeletons, using a computer program known as Rosetta. The possibilities for the new filaments are endless. Currently, there are projects examining if the protein filaments can aid with curing malaria as well as diagnostic tests on paper.

“The more malaria pathogen you put on the fibers, the better immune response you get,“ Jorge Fallas, UW senior fellow and member of the Baker Lab, said. “The question is: If you put a lot of it on because the [self-assembling protein filament] fibers are much larger, would you also get a better immune response?”

These filaments are important to our bodies and play an important role in cell biology. Filaments aid with cell movement and structure, allow cell division to occur, and build up collagen which strengthen bones, cartilage, skin, and other tissues.

“We developed new methods to find out how we can make proteins assemble into filaments,” Fallas said. “This involves things that go from a very small scale, so we designed atoms and amino acids. We repurposed them to make new proteins assemble in a way that is inspired by natural proteins but hasn’t been conceived before.”