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Designer proteins open up biotech frontiers

Image: Protein design
Computational designs for proteins can be turned into molecular models like the one at left, or into actual molecules with medical applications. (Credit: UW Institute for Protein Design)

Synthetic genomes and gene editing are big things today, but the next big things in biotechnology could be proteins that are designed and edited on computers – and are then synthesized to produce novel types of medicines, materials and molecular machines.

“It’s the right time for this field,” David Baker, director of the University of Washington’s Institute for Protein Design, said Monday at the EXOME Life Science Disruptors conference. The event was presented by Xconomy at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

Baker is a pioneer in protein design, going back to the invention of the Rosetta protein modeling software more than a decade ago. Rosetta spawned the Foldit video game, which has attracted hundreds of thousands of protein-folding players. It has also spawned a commercial spin-out known as Cyrus Biotechnology, which is turning Rosetta into a commercial-grade, cloud computing platform.

“We are currently doing projects with eight companies, have four companies about to start a paid beta test … and a growing wait list to enter the beta, currently two companies,” Cyrus Biotech CEO Lucas Nivón told GeekWire in an email. “The next big events on Cyrus’s horizon are the official launch of beta in mid-May, and the launch out of beta into initial release in the June/July time frame.”

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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