The instrument makes use of a new method to remove and isolate the tangle of proteins found within cells, a process necessary to reveal protein function within an organism. In contrast to other, more labor-intensive separation methods, the Purdue team's technique allows proteins with similar chemical properties to be separated in the gas phase based on their mass so that analysis can be accomplished in far fewer steps than previously required.
"This technique, when fully developed, will allow us to take hundreds of proteins from a cell without damaging them," said R. Graham Cooks, the Henry Bohn Hass Distinguished Professor of Analytical Chemistry in Purdue's School of Science. "We can then deposit these proteins in specific locations on a chip, where their functions can be analyzed quickly. We hope this chip-making instrument will streamline proteomics research."
The research involving the separation technique appears in this week's (8/13) online edition of Science.
Proteins are well known as the building blocks for all living things, but within plants and animals there are thousands of varieties of these complex molecules. Each performs a different task - transporting chemicals within cells, for example, or facilitating the transfer of energy.
Categorizing protein function is a young and promising field of biology called proteomics, which many scientists believe will provide untold medical advances over the next few decades. To make such advances, however, scientists must sift through the jumble of proteins inside a cell and isolate each one, which has not been an easy job.