NSF awards $4.5 million to researchers for study of protein folding mechanisms

In an effort to shed new light on what is known as the "protein folding problem" -- the deciphering of rules for encoding protein structure by its DNA sequence -- researchers led by Shimon Weiss of UCLA have been awarded more than $4.5 million by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Frontiers in Integrative Biological Research program to study the effects of the folding environment on protein folding mechanisms.

The award is one of three awarded by the NSF totaling $14 million given to researchers at UCLA, Stanford, UC Davis, Texas A&M, Michigan State University and the Scripps Research Institute to investigate under-studied or unanswered questions in biology.

The researchers are expected to use innovative approaches to address these questions by integrating scientific concepts across disciplines that include biology, mathematics and the physical sciences, engineering, social sciences and the informational sciences.

In all living organisms proteins begin to self-assemble or fold into their "native" three-dimensional structures as they emerge into their intracellular folding environment either from the exit tunnel of the ribosome -- the nano-machine responsible for translating genetic material into functional proteins -- or from nano-pores designed to transport proteins between intracellular compartments.

For most proteins the delicate balance of forces that controls and guides the folding process is highly sensitive to environmental solution conditions such as salt concentration, pH, temperature, viscosity, molecular crowding and the presence of folding co-factors and chaperones.

However, due to numerous experimental limitations, most protein folding studies are conducted under simple refolding solution (in-vitro) conditions, which differ conspicuously from the true in-vivo folding environment. To what degree do these differences affect the folding mechanisms of different proteins? To what degree are in-vit

Contact: Jennifer Marcus
University of California - Los Angeles

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