First Glimpses of Folding Proteins


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Proteins, it appears, have taken Frank Sinatra’s “I Did It My Way” to heart. A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) reveals how single proteins, each a few nanometers (billionths of a meter) long, fold to assume their final shape. It shows that even proteins that end up with the same final shape take different routes to reach it.
Using a novel technology developed in their lab, Weizmann scientists headed by Dr. Gilad Haran of the Chemical Physics Department took the first glimpses ever of single proteins in the process of folding. Proteins, the fundamental components of all living cells, start out as randomly shaped chains and twist into a well-defined structure that determines their function. In some cases this process goes awry and can result in a wide variety of disorders.
For decades scientists have pondered how proteins go through this folding process, yet they were unable to follow individual folding proteins for more than a few milliseconds – the proteins were just too small and constantly on the go. Haran’s technology, which makes following single proteins possible, has provided an answer to a central question, showing that they differ in the routes taken to the same folded shape. The new technology might help clarify the reasons for protein misfolding and ensuing disease.
Dr. Gilad Haran is the incumbent of the  Benjamin H. Swig and Jack D. Weiler Career Development Chair. His research is supported by the Clore Center for Biological Physics; the Fritz Haber Center for Physical Chemistry; and the Avron-Wilstaetter Minerva Center for Research in Photosynthesis.