Why is it important to know the structures of proteins?

by Farzaneh
(Johor Skudai, Johor Bahrue, Malaysia)

Amino acids?

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Structure drives function
by: Aminophile

There are thousands of types of proteins in nature (and in our bodies) that all do very specific things. Some are important for making cells stay the right shape, some help carry messages from one part of the body to another or in and out of cells and others help to break down or create molecules like fats, proteins and sugars. The amazing thing is that all these different proteins with different functions are made up of the same 20 amino acids. What makes them all different is how they are folded into their 3D structure. The way they fold depends on the order of amino acids in the protein.

Each amino acid has a side chain of atoms that stick out and interact with each other. How they interact depends on their properties, so amino acids that are similar or match will group together. This forces the protein chain to fold into a specific shape. Most proteins can't perform their function if they haven't folded into the right shape.

Because proteins are so important in biology, scientists do a lot of research trying to understand how they work. Figuring out the structure of a protein can give a lot of clues to how it functions, specially since proteins that work in similar ways have very similar structures.
As an example, for my doctorate I worked on a protein call Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) that is important for controlling blood pressure. Our lab worked out the 3D structure of
ACE and that helped us understand how it works. Now that we understand that we can use what we know about its structure to help us design drugs that can help treat people with high blood pressure and to prevent heart attacks.

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