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Posted: Sep 13, 2013
A cost-effective look at proteins - with a little help from robotics
(Nanowerk News) An efficient and cost effective new method of studying the movement of proteins in the body has been developed through an EU-funded project. By taking advantage of the fact that proteins and robot arms both move in a similar way, the COMPMECH team has been able to adapt certain algorithms to simulate protein behaviour.
By using these new algorithms, scientists will be able to discover - with greater precision than ever before - how protein movement functions. This is scientifically important, as proteins play a crucial role in our bodies. Indeed, they are involved in most of the biological processes that take place.
The study of proteins has become one of the most interesting and collaborative fields in science. More and more disciplines, including physics, biology, mathematics and engineering are coming together to explore these building blocks of life. While they are used statically for, say, the creation of skin and muscle - they are also dynamic, combining with other chemicals to carry out specific functions in the body.
Until now, a number of methods have been used to study static protein structures, including X-ray crystallography and nuclear magnetic resonance. However, these methods are of no use for proteins that are on the move; analytical methods, computer simulations, have to be used. This however is often prohibitively costly, requiring supercomputers to make calculations that could take days.
One major difficulty lies in the nature of the movement of the proteins themselves. They have the capacity to move in a way that is similar to the way an arm moves. This is why the COMPMECH project was launched, to examine the possibility that adapting robotic algorithms could lead to a new way of investigating protein movement. Engineering has played a crucial role in this project, developing the software capable of studying protein movement faster and cheaper than the ever before.
The COMPMECH research group focused on four proteins in two different situations. Firstly, how proteins move when fulfilling their function, and secondly, how they achieve a three-dimensional structure; proteins are long chains at first and then they fold.
This simplified method for investigating protein movement will make the work of researchers involved in proteins easier. The innovation also has potential medical implications. Proteins not only participate in most biological processes; they also participate in some diseases as well, such as cancer or Alzheimer's. The control of protein movement could therefore open up new possibilities in treatment.
COMPMECH was coordinated by the Department of Mechanics of the Faculty of Engineering in in Bilbao, University of The Basque Country.