How Nature Harvests Sunlight

ving sufficient biological data, you can know that you are modeling correctly. In our case, the data without modeling could not be interpreted, but with the modeling we could complete a clear and correct structure of the light-harvesting protein."

Schulten's model shows "the beautiful capability of life to organize itself into components and do it spontaneously without something from the outside being there to place all the pieces together."

"It just happens spontaneously," he said. "But on the other side of the coin, something that works beautifully also can go wrong, and when it does you can have a lot of damage.

"Such unwanted assembly of protein can occur when the various components are not in complete order. They will still aggregate and form maybe beautiful structures, but they can be very detrimental. We know some of the resulting diseases very well," Schulten said. "One of them is Alzheimer's, in which certain proteins form plaques in the brain. Another is Mad Cow Disease, where a protein aggregates at the wrong time and causes a chain reaction of other proteins joining the aggregate."

Schulten told scientists at the AAAS that his model protein shows how "nature uses some very irregular forms to create something beautiful." But, he said: "I'm not saying that with this model we can cure Alzheimer's. There are many steps in understanding various biological systems. This model shows the structure of a protein in one of the purest, simplest systems. It has much to teach us about adhesion forces that govern self-assembly and how certain drugs may be targeted to interfere when assembly begins to occur at the wrong time."


Contact: Jim Barlow, Life Sciences Editor
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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