A healthy mind and body require the coordinated action of billions of tiny molecular workers called proteins. Our genes contain the DNA scripts for manufacturing proteins. Some proteins build our cells and other proteins work like miniature machines to allow us to think, smell, eat and breathe. Proteins are indispensable molecules in our bodies, and each has a unique three-dimensional shape that is well suited for its particular job. And if the shape of even one protein happens to go awry, there can be major consequences for human health. Misshapen proteins are the culprits behind many diseases, including cystic fibrosis, Alzheimer's disease and countless others.
The NIH Roadmap's Structural Biology initiative is a strategic effort to create a "picture" gallery of the molecular shapes of proteins in the body. This research investment will involve the development of rapid, efficient and dependable methods to produce protein samples that scientists can use to determine the three-dimensional structure, or shape, of a protein.
The new effort will catalyze what is currently a hit-or-miss process into a streamlined routine, helping researchers clarify the role of protein shape in health and disease.
What will it take to accomplish this task? NIH will begin by funding interdisciplinary groups of scientists to develop innovative methods for producing large quantities of membrane proteins, those proteins that are wedged tightly within the wrappings of our cells. Scientists currently find it extremely difficult to wrestle these proteins out of cells in a condition suitable for structure-mapping techniques.
Project planners expect that the development of new, protein-producing methods will lead to the creation of specialized facilities that will be capable of quickly and efficiently manufacturing large quantities of research-grade membrane protein samples. Once scientists have access to sufficient quantities of proteins for their experiments, they can determine a protein's shape using...