Persuading Proteins to Form Porous Polyhedra

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Professor Todd Yeates and colleagues have designed a hollow cube out of naturally occurring proteins, something that was previously only possible with DNA. The custom-built protein structures might be used for drug delivery, or as reaction or crystallisation vessels.

RSC Chemistry World (By Katrina Kramer): Researchers have been engineering DNA into custom nanostructures (DNA origami) for several years, but proteins have proved more challenging. ‘We don’t yet fully understand the rules that govern how proteins fold and bind to each other. DNA structures have surged ahead in the last decade because their rules of assembly are a lot simpler,’ explains Todd Yeates from the University of California Los Angeles, US. Previous approaches to ‘protein origami’ relied on designing new, unnatural protein oligomers, a challenge Yeates and his colleagues sought to avoid.

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Trimeric proteins form the cube’s corners, with dimeric proteins along the edges – Courtesy: Nature Publishing Group

Instead, Yeates and his team exploited proteins that naturally assemble into oligomers. They fused together two different proteins, one which forms a dimer and the other a trimer, using a short amino acid linker. ‘If you get the geometry just right, the [fused] protein won’t have any choice but to assemble into the desired shape,’ Yeates explains.

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