In the highly respected journal, Nature Communications, a team of Danish researchers reports that they have developed a new class of artificial proteins. In the long term, the results could lead to better treatment of cancer and diabetes.
Nature has created a host of proteins, which come in many forms, and which have many functions in our body. They are the body’s principal, and hardest working building blocks. For example, some of them provide our muscles with strength; while others make sure that our cells receive messages.
In spite of this natural diversity, in the past 20 years or so there has been great scientific interest in creating artificial proteins, in part stimulated by drug development opportunities.
Now a team of Danish researchers from University of Southern Denmark, University of Copenhagen and University of Aarhus report that they have developed a new method of creating artificial proteins.
Nature’s smallest building blocks
Artificial proteins are made from the smallest of nature’s building blocks. In this case the team of researchers have succeeded in combining so-called oligonucleotides (short DNA molecules) with peptides (small proteins). The peptides coiled around one another effectively, creating an artificial protein.
– We forced three building blocks together and managed to make them form a protein mimic, says Professor Jesper Wengel of SDU. He is the head of the BioNEC (Biomolecular Nanoscale Engineering Center) research centre.
He believes that the work has significant potential:
– We have shown that it is possible to enforce peptides together by this approach. It paves the way for testing countless new combinations, which could create new artificial proteins with functions, which nature itself has not created, but which we need.
Artificial proteins have a longer lifetime
Knud J. Jensen, Professor at the University of Copenhagen’s Chemistry Department, explains:
– When you work with artificial proteins, you have better control over the proteins’ properties. This is valuable when you are developing new, protein-based drugs and enzymes. In general, proteins have a very short lifetime in a body, a key parameter which can be improved for artificial proteins.
The researchers hope that, in the future, artificial proteins can be used to treat some of the major diseases like cancer or diabetes.
Now scientists have a new technique that avoids the expensive enzymes
Producing second-generation biofuel from dead plant tissue is environmentally friendly — but it is also expensive because the process, as used today, needs expensive enzymes, and large companies dominate this market. Now scientists have a new technique that avoids the expensive enzymes. The production of second generation biofuels thus becomes cheaper, probably attracting many more producers and competition, and this may finally bring the price down.
The world’s need for fuel will persist, also when Earth’s deposits of fossil fuels run out. Bioethanol, which is made from the remains of plants after other parts have been used as food or other agricultural products, and therefore termed “second generation,” is seen as a strong potential substitute candidate, and countries like the United States and Brazil are far ahead when it comes to producing bioethanol from plant parts like corn or sugar canes. Corn cubs and sugar canes are in fact plant parts that can also be used directly as food, so there is a great public resistance to accept producing this kind of bioethanol. A big challenge is therefore to become able to produce bioethanol from plant parts, which cannot be used for food.
“The goal is to produce bioethanol from cellulose. Cellulose is very difficult to break down, and therefore cannot directly be used as a food source. Cellulose is found everywhere in nature in rich quantities, for example in the stems of the corn plant. If we can produce bioethanol from the corn stems and keep the corn cubs for food, we have come a long way,” says Per Morgen, professor at the Institute of Physics, Chemistry and Pharmacy, University of Southern Denmark.
The University of Southern Denmark, with campuses located in the southwestern part of Denmark – i.e. Funen, Southern Jutland and Zealand – is a research and educational institution with deep regional roots and an international outlook.
Reaching even further south, the university offers a number of joint programmes in co-operation with the University of Flensburg and the University of Kiel. Contacts with regional industries and the international scientific community are strong.
The University of Southern Denmark (Syddansk Universitet) was formed in 1998 (but dates back to 1966) by the merger between Odense University (founded in 1966), Southern Denmark School of Business and Engineering and South Jutland University Centre. In 2006 it was decided to incorporate the Business School Centre in Slagelse (Handelshøjskolecentret Slagelse), the National Institute of Public Health (Statens Institut for Folkesundhed) and Odense Teknikum into the University of Southern Denmark per January 1, 2007. The University therefore now has seven campuses, mainly located in the southern part of Denmark: campus Odense on the island of Funen with nearby engineering campus, campus Slagelse and campus Copenhagen on the island of Zealand, as well as campus Kolding, campus Esbjerg and campus Sønderborg (campus named Alsion) on the Jutland peninsula. In 1998 University Library of Southern Denmark was also merged with the university.
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