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'Knot' to be undone, researchers discover unusual protein structure

Researchers funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences have determined the structure of a protein with a surprising feature in it: a knot. This is the first time a knot has been found in a protein from the most ancient type of single-celled organism, an archaebacterium, and one of only a few times a knot has been seen in any protein structure.

This very unusual protein shape finding is a result from the NIGMS Protein Structure Initiative, a 10-year effort to determine 10,000 unique protein structures using fast, highly automated methods. NIGMS, a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' National Institutes of Health, provides $50 million per year to nine PSI research centers. The protein knot structure was solved at one of the PSI centers, the Midwest Center for Structural Genomics, which is directed by Andrzej Joachimiak, Ph.D., of Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago.

The researchers describe the new protein structure in the journal Proteins. Their article will be published online Nov. 27 and in print in early December.

"It's a surprising and different structure," said NIGMS' John Norvell, Ph.D., director of the Protein Structure Initiative. Protein folding theory previously held that forming a knot was beyond the ability of a protein. Joachimiak suggests that the newly discovered knot may stabilize the amino acid subunits of the protein.

Such discoveries are just what the PSI aims for. "The PSI approach is to solve thousands of unique protein structures," said Norvell. "It's a discovery-driven effort, a voyage into the unknown. We aren't sure what we'll find, but we expect to map a great diversity of protein structures."

"This makes us want to find out why nature goes to the trouble of creating a knot instead of a more typical fold," said Joachimiak.

One of the main goals of the PSI is to understand all of the possible shapes of proteins in nature. Scientists hope t
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Contact: Linda Joy
linda.joy@nih.gov
301-496-7301
NIH/National Institute of General Medical Sciences
26-Nov-2002


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