- News Home
5 December 2013 11:26 am ,
Vol. 342 ,
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
Thousands of scientists in the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) are about to lose their jobs as a result of the...
Dyslexia, a learning disability that hinders reading, hasn't been associated with deficits in vision, hearing, or...
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
Snake venoms are remarkably complex mixtures that can stun or kill prey within minutes. But more and more researchers...
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
Since arriving on the island of Guam in the 1940s, the brown tree snake ( Boiga irregularis ) has extirpated native...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
- About Us
Membrane Proteins in 3D
9 February 2001 7:00 pm
Whereas people use their eyes and ears to get information, cells rely on proteins that span their outer membranes to scan for chemical signals from the outside world. Now a biotech start-up plans to launch an international consortium to determine the three-dimensional crystal structures of 100 such membrane proteins, many of which represent promising drug targets.
Several "structural genomics" efforts have been launched recently to automate the atomic mapping of proteins, but this is the first to concentrate on membrane proteins. The subjects are a class of proteins called G protein-coupled receptors, which are sensitive to stimuli as varied as hormones and photon-altered pigments. Once these proteins detect a specific signal outside the cell, they let loose a cascade of biochemical messengers that alters the cell's chemistry or gene expression. Scientists would love to know more details, but the receptors are notoriously difficult to work with. Removing them from the cell membrane destroys their normal 3D shape and any hope of understanding what they look like in atomic detail.
The consortium, led by start-up Bio-Xtal in Roubaix, France, plans to orchestrate a concerted effort to find new ways to express, crystallize, and image the proteins. If all goes as planned, starting in April the company will collaborate with four academic labs in France, Germany, and the Netherlands. Bio-Xtal has applied to the European Union for half the estimated 10 million Euro ($9.3 million) cost of the 3-year project, and it expects to raise the rest from pharmaceutical sponsors. Seventeen companies, including Roche, Merck, and Astra Zeneca, have already offered support, says Etienne L'Hermite, Bio-Xtal's manager.
The effort to extend structural genomics to membrane proteins "an excellent idea," says Aled Edwards, a structural biologist at the University of Toronto. But because membrane proteins are difficult to express and crystallize--two necessary steps in determining their structure--the project is certain to face slow going, he says. "Calling something 'genomics' implies automation and high throughput," says Edwards. In this case, "it is a bit of a stretch."
Bio-Xtal's Web site