Scientists build proteins into molecular capsules

This cutaway view shows the protein design for a synthetic nucleocapsid known as I53-50-v1. (Nature / UW Graphic / Butterfield, Lajoie et al.)

University of Washington researchers have taken a page from the viral playbook to create microscopic assemblies for packaging genetic material — with the goal of using the system for targeted drug delivery.

The assemblies, known as synthetic nucleocapsids, work like viruses to protect their payloads as they enter cells. They can even evolve over time. That may sound like the start of a science-fiction novel, but  the authors emphasize that their plot doesn’t have a scary ending.

“Our nucleocapsids are not viruses, because they have no way to get into cells, out of cells, or replicate on their own without our direct intentional assistance,” they said in an email sent to GeekWire by UW biochemist Marc Lajoie.

Lajoie is one of the authors of the study, published today by the journal Nature.

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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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