Living Systems

Protein Engineering

Technical Applications


Protein engineering, that is creating proteins sequences whose specific functions are determined by their three dimensional shape, holds the key to tailoring protein catalysts and rational drug design.


While it is now well established that more than 500 proteins each routinely fold into single conformations out of hundreds of millions of possibilities, the general folding rules have yet to be defined. While gene sequences are converted to protein sequences by ribosomes, the process of correctly converting sequences to folding patterns is not well understood. The sequence of amino acids in a protein regulates the folding of the protein chain, with the folding pattern dependent on interactions among the amino acid's side chains. The final shape of the protein affects its functional ability to selectively bind and interact with specific sites. Once the protein folding riddle is solved, it should facilitate the development of synthetic and entirely new proteins and materials. Promising results are just beginning to become available from protein crystals grown in space.


Protein engineering technology contributes to several national goals. By permitting precise design of more specific and more potent drugs, protein engineering improves the health of the U.S. population, as well as the warfighting capabilities of the U.S. military. New and more potent drugs involve the possibilities of increased sales and more jobs in the pharmaceutical industry. Because it is on the leading edge of understanding molecular structure, it contributes to maintaining U.S. leadership in science and engineering


The primary basic physics work has been done in the U.S. with some mathematical elaboration in the former Soviet Union, Japan and Switzerland.