Advances in Biochemistry: protein assembly monitoring

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Researchers observe the self-assembly of tiny living machines

Empowering bioengineers to design new molecular machines for nanotechnology applications is one of the possible achievements of a study conducted by researchers at the University of Montreal, published June 10 in the journal Nature Structural and Molecular Biology.

Scientists have developed a new approach to visualizing how proteins are assembled that could also help to significantly improve our understanding of diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, caused by assembly errors.

"To survive, all creatures, from bacteria to humans, monitor and transform their environments using tiny protein nanomachines made of thousands of atoms," explained lead study author Professor Stephen Michnick, from the department of biochemistry at University.

Proteins are made up of long linear chains of amino acids that have evolved over millions of years to self-assemble very rapidly (often within thousandths of a fraction of a second) into a functioning nanomachine. "One of the main challenges for biochemists is understanding how these linear chains assemble to form the correct structure, given the astronomically high number of possible shapes," Michnick said.

"To understand how a protein moves from a straight chain to a single assembled structure, we have to take snapshots of its shape at each stage of the assembly process," said Dr. Alexis Vallée-Bélisle, lead author of the study. "We developed a strategy to monitor protein assembly by integrating fluorescent probes throughout the linear protein chain, so that it was possible to detect the structure at each stage of protein assembly, step by step, up to its final structure" .

The protein assembly process is not the end of the journey, since a protein can change through chemical modifications or with age to assume different forms and functions. "Understanding how a protein goes from being one thing to becoming another is the first step towards understanding and designing protein nanomachines for biotechnologies, such as medical and environmental diagnostic sensors or drug synthesis and administration", Valle-Bélisle pointed out.

Source: Source: eScience News

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