New protein design research could deter chemical, biological attacks

Researchers are studying how to design proteins that could be used therapeutically for victims of biological and chemical agents. | Courtesy of the University of Wash.
Researchers from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), the Scripps Research Institute and the University of Washington are studying potential methods to design proteins that degrade biological and chemical agents, they announced on Wednesday.

Proteins use transition states to stabilize high-energy substrate conformations in order to obtain catalysis, an acceleration of a chemical reaction with the use of catalyst material. The research project led by Ilya Elashvili of DTRA's Chemical and Biological Technologies Department, David Baker of the University of Washington and Peter Schultz of the Scripps Research Institute has reported a method to prolong this state of transition. Normally transition states in proteins last under one-billionth of a second.

The team members detailed their methodology in "Trapping a Transition State in a Computationally Designed Protein Bottle," an article published by Science. Their methods involved the use of biphenylalanine, a non-canonical amino acid.

They state that if the team is able to redesign a candidate protein to be a highly complementary model for the amino acid, it could allow for the design capabilities to create proteins that would be able to neutralize harmful agents. One possible outcome of this research, according to researchers, could potentially allow military, defense and response personnel to release proteins to neutralize harmful chemical or biological agents in the air.

Organizations in this story

Defense Threat Reduction Agency 8725 John J Kingman Rd Fort Belvoir, VA 22060

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