What is protein?
Why is the study of proteins important?
Protein structure determination
Proteins around us
Studying proteins can help some crews answer the question "What is life?"
and make our life better.
Proteins are among the major players in our life. Individual proteins have a defined shape and structure. Proteins work together in a complicated and coordinated way to support our life.
In other words, understanding the functions of proteins could give us hints to answer the question "What is life?" and observing the structures in detail could reveal how they work. Structural biology is an area of research that studies protein function based on protein structure.
Although no living creature has identified except on our planet Earth, we might find one in the future. In order to correctly understand the characteristics and properties of such a terrestrial creature, we need to understand how life began and evolved on Earth.
Structural biology is not just for basic studies to understand biological phenomena. It is also used in application studies such as R&D of industrial enzymes and pharmaceutical drugs. An enzyme is a biological molecule serving as a catalyst in a biological reaction. A catalyst is a substance that accelerates a reaction without changing itself.
Industrial enzymes are part of our life. Laundry detergent can contain an industrial enzyme. Such enzymes can be used in food processing, environmental cleansing, and blood analysis, as well as in medicines. Artificial catalysts made from metals and inorganic materials are widely used, but often have the disadvantage of requiring high temperature and pressure and/or a hazardous organic solvent.
In contrast, an enzyme or a biological catalyst allows a reaction to proceed under ambient and aqueous conditions. Many enzymes exhibit high catalytic efficiency and promote a reaction beyond the capability of any synthetic catalyst.
The beneficial knowledge afforded by understanding the mechanism of how an enzyme can continue a chemical reaction under mild conditions allows us to synthesize an new catalyst by mimicking or modifying it to perform better for industrial use.
We take medicine when we have a headache or a fever. Do you know how it works? The medicine actually binds to a protein and modifies its function in your body. If we can understand the function and the precise mechanism of the protein causing a disease, we could design a drug to relieve the symptoms.
It is not as easy as it sounds. Our body is home to more than 100,000 kinds of proteins. Even if a molecule is found to regulate a target protein, it might bind and interfere with another protein, thereby causing harm.
Enzymes have specificity in that a given enzyme can only bind a certain kind of molecule. Structure biology helps to improve this specificity. A protein and drug are often compared to a lock and key. If a target protein structure is available, you can design a new molecule that can bind more securely and modulate the protein function better.