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Computing Structural Biology

Tailor-Made Proteins
By Emily Carlson
Posted April 2007

Scientists can easily determine a protein's amino acid sequence, but they can't reliably predict how this sequence will fold into a three-dimensional structure.

Baker used his computer program to design a small protein not found in nature. Brian Kuhlman, Gautam Dantas, David Baker
Baker used his computer program to design a small protein not found in nature.
Credit: Brian Kuhlman, Gautam Dantas, David Baker

So computational biologist David Baker at the University of Washington in Seattle took a different approach. He started by sketching a protein structure that nobody had ever seen. Next, he relied on a computer modeling program he developed called Rosetta to tell him what amino acid sequence would form the three-dimensional shape of his made-up molecule. Baker used that sequence to build an actual protein that was stable and quite similar in structure to the one he had drawn, validating his approach.

With the ability to whip up new proteins, Baker's research may make it possible to customize proteins that could be used as drugs or tiny biological machines to treat certain diseases.

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This page last reviewed on April 22, 2011