Perhaps you saw earlier in the year that scientists figured out how to “unfold” proteins (turning them back to their original state after a change), literally “unboiling” an egg. Well, prepare to forget all about that snoozer of a scientific achievement, because OSU has made a significant leap forward in discovering how the proteins fold and change, which is a major step in understanding basic life processes.
The changes in question happen in less than a trillionth of a second, and are happening to molecules less than a millionth of an inch long, so until now they’d been written off as basically impossible to ever observe. But researchers in the Karplus Lab at OSU discovered snapshots of the transitions basically frozen in the downstream of the amino acid chains that make up proteins. If I were explaining this to Keanu Reeves, this would be the part where he says, “Whoa.”
Andrew Brereton, an OSU doctoral student and lead author on the study, recently commented about the findings in a press release.
“Actual evidence of these transitions was hiding in plain sight all this time. We just didn’t know what to look for, and didn’t understand how significant it was,” said Brereton.
The folding of proteins is what makes biological functions happen correctly. When they don’t work right, diseases rooted in protein folding are what you get, among them ALS and Alzheimer’s. We had long been able to look at these folds after they had happened, using X-ray crystallography. Brereton and company discovered that there were frozen transitions visible in the chain all along, which means this may be the tip of the iceberg in what we’ll learn from these findings.
It could change the way we understand a lot of things, which could bring new hope to sufferers of protein folding diseases as well as basic understanding of biological processes. Now if they can just use it to tell me exactly how long to boil the egg to achieve the desired amount of protein folding, we’ll be in business.
By Sidney Reilly