What are proteins and how do they work?

Proteins are molecules made up of chains of amino acids, and they are necessary for all cells and organisms to survive. Proteins are responsible for catalyzing chemical reactions like digesting food, transporting substances across organs, pathogen clearing, recognizing signaling molecules, and much more within your body.

In the human body alone, there are more than 100,000 different proteins at work, all serving critical functions. Keratin and collagen are essential components of your body, forming hair, teeth, and constructive tissue for bones and muscles. Hemoglobins are vital proteins that store oxygen in your red blood cells, while ferritin stores iron in your blood.

Red Blood Cell
A portion of a red blood cell is shown in this illustration, with the cell membrane at the top, and lots of hemoglobin (red) at the bottom. © David S. Goodsell 1999.

Among the various types of proteins are a class of proteins called enzymes. They serve as biological catalysts, meaning that they are the chemical-reaction machines that build molecules, or break them down as needed. This is how a cell grows, reproduces, and sustains life.

Enzymes have evolved for their purposes over millions of years, but with modern technology we can speed up the development of new, specialized enzymes. At Protera we have been working to uncover an elegant way to discover and synthesize enzymes because of the possibilities they unlock for science, industry, and medicine.

Enzymes and proteins functions are related to their 3D structure, and the structure is related to the amino acid chain sequence. Proteins in water form complicated shapes that fits molecules or other proteins creating new complexes or generating chemical reactions.

Protein structure is complicated, but by understanding it we can learn about current illnesses and develop cures. Scientists believe that protein malfunction is behind Alzheimer’s disease. They have found that the errant folding of proteins in the brain signals the onset of the disease [link]. Understanding the structure of these proteins can help us identify the opportunities for developing a treatment.

Industries benefit from an understanding of protein structure as well, and their protein products touch our lives in many invisible ways. Enzymes including proteases and amylases are used in detergent to remove oils, starches, and proteins from laundry and dishware. Papin is used in the meat industry to tenderize meat for cooking. Amylases is used to give certain beers a malty taste. More and more proteins are being introduced for commercial applications, often times replacing harsh and hazardous chemicals, or as a new tool that allows manufacturers to create novel products.

But of all the proteins that exist, we only know the structure of a fraction of them. The international repository of proteins, the Protein Data Bank, holds structures of roughly 110,000 proteins, out of hundreds of millions or more thought to exist. The discovery of new protein and their synthesis for industrial applications could revolutionize entire industries. Foods could keep longer, diseases could be cured faster, and many processes could become more environmentally friendly with useful enzymes. They are organic, after all.

At Protera we are contributing to the advancement of protein discovery and synthesis, to improve lives in many ways.

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