The three-dimensional map depicts similarities and differences among the building blocks, letting scientists visualize the universe of possible protein structures -- the many possible twists, turns and folds -- and see evolutionary changes that may have occurred with time. The map may help them understand the relationship among all proteins in nature in the same way that the periodic table of the elements gave chemists a framework for understanding how molecules are related.
"This is a very good way to organize and visualize the whole protein universe," said Sung-Hou Kim, professor of chemistry at UC Berkeley and head of the Structural Biology Department of the Physical Biosciences Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. "The major impact of this research will be conceptual, providing a global view of protein structure and how different structures may have evolved."
Since understanding the molecular functions of proteins is key to understanding cellular functions, the map holds promise for a number of areas of biology and biomedical research, including the design of more effective pharmaceutical drugs that have fewer side-effects, Kim said.
"This map can be used to help design a drug to act on a specific protein and to identify which other proteins with similar structures might also be affected by the drug," he said.
Kim and his colleagues, UC Berkeley graduate students Jingtong Hou and Gregory Sims, and research associate Chao Zhang, published their map this week in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The article will be posted on the PNAS Web sit
Contact: Robert Sanders
University of California - Berkeley