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Scientists design proteins that snap together

Protein assembly
This molecular visualization shows how proteins are assembled like building blocks. (UW Illustration)

Researchers have created molecular building blocks that can weave themselves into long threads of protein.

Well, maybe not all that long. Each protein-based building block measures only a nanometer in length, and the self-assembled filaments get about as long as 10,000 nanometers. It’d take more than 2,500 of those filaments, laid end to end, to amount to an inch in total length. Nevertheless, the feat described in this week’s issue of the journal Science demonstrates the power and beauty of protein design.

“Being able to create protein filaments from scratch — or de novo — will help us better understand the structure and mechanics of naturally occurring protein filaments and will also allow us to create entirely novel materials, unlike any found in nature,” senior study author David Baker of the University of Washington said today in a news release.

Baker is a biochemist at the UW School of Medicine and director of UW’s Institute for Protein Design, which has pioneered the protein-folding field for years.

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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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