Purdue biologists crystallize technique to expand protein research

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue University scientists have managed to crystallize a particularly troublesome type of protein, an accomplishment that could overcome a 20-year hurdle in fighting a wide range of diseases.

William Cramer and three other scientists have tackled a major problem confronting protein researchers - how to crystallize fat-soluble proteins in order to study them. Most proteins are water-soluble and form crystals readily, and research on these crystals has revealed a wealth of information that could have wide applications in medicine. However, although about 30 percent of the proteins in nature are fat-soluble, it has only been possible to crystallize a few of these. Any means of crystallizing the fat-soluble variety could thus bring many more diseases within the realm of biomedical understanding.

The team has thus far only crystallized one such protein, but Cramer said they are hopeful their technique can be applied to others.

"By dissolving the protein in a synthetic detergent and adding a bit of synthetic fat as 'glue,' we have produced crystals that we can study with standard methods of X-ray analysis," said Cramer, the Henry Koffler Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences in Purdue's School of Science. "This method could be generally important to solving the structure of many biomedically important proteins."

The research appeared in the April 29 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Cramer co-authored the paper with his Purdue colleagues Huamin Zhang and visiting scholar Genji Kurisu of Osaka University, and with Janet Smith of the Department of Biological Sciences.

A living thing contains upwards of 5,000 proteins, which the cells use for everything from growth to development to adaptation. Much of the work takes place in the cell membrane, the boundary between the cell and its environment. Membrane proteins - which numerically make up about 30 percent of the proteins

Contact: Chad Boutin
Purdue University

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