Tagged: Dr. David Baker Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • richardmitnick 10:12 am on April 17, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Dr. David Baker, , , ,   

    UW Medicine Newsroom: “Protein design named as an Audacious project” 

    U Washington
    University of Washington

    UW Medicine Newsroom

    April 16, 2019

    Leila Gray
    UW Medicine

    Susan Gregg
    UW Medicine

    The Institute for Protein Design at the UW School of Medicine will advance medicine and improve healthcare with an initial $45 million in funding through TED’s The Audacious Project.

    At the Institute for Protein Design, David Baker (left) and Neil King display enlarged 3-D printouts of computer-engineered proteins. ian Haydon/IPD

    The Institute for Protein Design at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle has received a commitment of an initial $45 million in funding through The Audacious Project, a philanthropic collaborative that surfaces and funds critical projects with the potential to create massive global change.

    “This is simply wonderful, and it comes at the best possible time,” said David Baker. He is the the institute’s director, a UW School of Medicine professor of biochemistry, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. He also holds the Henrietta and Aubrey Davis Endowed Professorship in Biochemistry.

    “As we get better and better at designing proteins to perform specific tasks,” said Baker, “it has become possible to have bold new approaches to solving some of the most vexing problems in medicine today.”

    The institute will use The Audacious Project funds to pursue the computational design of:

    A universal flu vaccine capable of providing lifetime immunization
    New drug candidates with enhanced abilities to enter the brain
    Advanced protein containers for targeted gene delivery (including the delivery of RNA into cells)
    Smart proteins capable of identifying cancerous or otherwise unhealthy cells
    Self-assembling protein nanomaterials for use in solar energy and nanofabrication

    Please see the Institute for Protein Design fact sheet for more information on the institute and its innovation hub of projects.

    The institute will expand its team of engineers and scientists who will work together to advance their best-in-class Rosetta protein design software. It will also add three new tenure-track professors, five acting instructors, and will support additional postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, and staff scientists from around the world. The funding will also support investments in equipment, supplies, and laboratory space needed to design, build, and characterize millions of synthetic proteins.

    Support leveraged via The Audacious Project was made possible through the generosity of Laura and John Arnold, Steve and Genevieve Jurvetson, Chris Larsen and Lyna Lam, Lyda Hill Philanthropies, Miguel McKelvey, the Clara Wu and Joe Tsai Foundation, Rosamund Zander and Hansjörg Wyss for the Wyss Foundation, and several anonymous donors. The UW School of Medicine hopes these funds will spur more contributions to the Institute for Protein Design.

    Baker said the goal of the initiative is to create the Bell Labs of protein design, referring to the enormous productivity and invention of Bell Telephone Laboratories. There, scientists and engineers invented such technologies as the transistor and the laser, as well as information theory, which underpins the digital age. “We hope to attract some of the best and brightest from around the world to work on what we think is going to be a protein design revolution,” Baker said.

    “We believe that protein-based technologies will play an increasingly transformative role in this space,” said Neil King, an assistant professor of biochemistry at the UW School of Medicine, who leads the institute’s vaccine design efforts. “The Audacious Project will help us realize that vision in a way that simply wouldn’t be possible through traditional grant-based funding.”

    “We created The Audacious Project to give lift-off to some of the world’s most transformative projects — the ones with the potential to revolutionize entire fields,” said Anna Verghese, executive director of The Audacious Project. “The Institute for Protein Design has been a long-standing pioneer in computational protein design. Now, with a solid blueprint in place and support through The Audacious Project, the Institute for Protein Design will venture to accelerate the pace of discovery, disseminate new protein technology, and fundamentally change how drugs, vaccines, fuels, and new materials are made.”

    About the Audacious Project

    The Audacious Project was launched in April 2018, with a mission to foster “collaborative philanthropy for bold ideas.” Housed at TED (the nonprofit devoted to ideas worth spreading) and operated with support from The Bridgespan Group (a leading social impact advisor to nonprofits and NGOs, philanthropists and investors), The Audacious Project brings together some of the most respected organizations and individuals in philanthropy—the Skoll Foundation, Virgin Unite, Dalio Foundation and more. The Audacious Project surfaces and funds critical projects with the potential to create global change. By removing barriers associated with funding, The Audacious Project empowers social entrepreneurs to dream boldly and take on the world’s biggest and most urgent challenges.

    The 2019 projects include: Center for Policing Equity, Educate Girls, Institute for Protein Design at the UW School of Medicine, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, the END Fund, The Nature Conservancy, Thorn and Waterford UPSTART. Learn more or support an existing project at http://www.AudaciousProject.org.

    About the Institute for Protein Design at the University of Washington School of Medicine

    Proteins perform the vast array of functions in life. At the Institute for Protein Design, established in 2012 in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, researchers use computers to design entirely new proteins from scratch. These custom proteins not only mimic many of the functions of naturally occurring proteins, but they also can perform entirely new functions that natural proteins cannot.

    “For many years, when protein researchers wanted to solve a problem, they looked to nature for a molecule that did something close to what they wanted, then they would try to make small changes to it,” said David Baker, director of the Institute for Protein Design at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

    U Washington Dr. David Baker

    “It’s similar to how our Stone Age ancestors developed their technology: If you wanted to dig a hole, you went looking for a bone that was roughly the right shape, and you sharpened it a bit.”

    Baker added, “What we do at the Institute for Protein Design is, first, determine what shape a protein would need to do a certain task — say, to serve as an enzyme — and then, using the Rosetta computer software developed at the institute, identify the amino acid sequence that will give us a protein that can do that task,” Baker said. The approach allows researchers to move beyond the limitations of proteins that were created by evolution over millions of years of trial and error.

    In recent years, researchers at the institute have developed a mini-protein that can neutralize the flu virus, an enzyme that degrades gluten in the stomach and which is now in clinical trials as a potential treatment for celiac disease, and a first-of-its-kind nanoparticle vaccine candidate for respiratory syncytial virus, oro RSV, which is second only to malaria as a cause of infant mortality worldwide. To date, eight spinout companies have been launched to further develop several of the institute’s engineered, novel proteins ffor clinical and commercial use.

    Institute for Protein Design
    Foldit (Institute’s online protein-folding video game)
    Rosetta@home (Institute’s citizen-science portal)

    David Baker’s Rosetta@home project, a project running on BOINC software from UC Berkeley

    Rosetta@home BOINC project

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    About UW Medicine

    UW Medicine is one of the top-rated academic medical systems in the world. With a mission to improve the health of the public, UW Medicine educates the next generation of physicians and scientists, leads one of the world’s largest and most comprehensive biomedical research programs, and provides outstanding care to patients from across the globe.

    The UW School of Medicine, part of the UW Medicine system, leads the internationally recognized, community-based WWAMI Program, serving the states of Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. The school has been ranked No. 1 in the nation in primary-care training for more than 20 years by U.S. News & World Report. It is also second in the nation in federal research grants and contracts with $749.9 million in total revenue (fiscal year 2016) according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

    UW Medicine has more than 27,000 employees and an annual budget of nearly $5 billion. Also part of the UW Medicine system are Airlift Northwest and the UW Physicians practice group, the largest physician practice plan in the region. UW Medicine shares in the ownership and governance of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance with Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Seattle Children’s, and also shares in ownership of Children’s University Medical Group with Seattle Children’s.


    The University of Washington is one of the world’s preeminent public universities. Our impact on individuals, on our region, and on the world is profound — whether we are launching young people into a boundless future or confronting the grand challenges of our time through undaunted research and scholarship. Ranked number 10 in the world in Shanghai Jiao Tong University rankings and educating more than 54,000 students annually, our students and faculty work together to turn ideas into impact and in the process transform lives and our world. For more about our impact on the world, every day.
    So what defines us —the students, faculty and community members at the University of Washington? Above all, it’s our belief in possibility and our unshakable optimism. It’s a connection to others, both near and far. It’s a hunger that pushes us to tackle challenges and pursue progress. It’s the conviction that together we can create a world of good. Join us on the journey.

  • richardmitnick 9:17 am on November 1, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Dr. David Baker, , ,   

    From Discover Magazine: “Meet the Biochemist Engineering Proteins From Scratch” 


    From Discover Magazine

    October 30, 2018
    Jonathon Keats

    David Baker. Brian Dalbalcon/UW Medicine

    U Washington Dr. David Baker

    In a sleek biochemistry laboratory at the University of Washington, postdoctoral fellow Yang Hsia is watching yellowish goo — the liquefied remains of E. coli — ooze through what looks like a gob of white marshmallow. “This isn’t super exciting,” he says.

    While growing proteins in bacteria and then purifying them, using blobby white resin as a filter, doesn’t make for riveting viewing, the end product is extraordinary. Accumulating in Hsia’s resin is a totally artificial protein, unlike anything seen in nature, that might just be the ideal chassis for the first universal flu vaccine.

    David Baker, Hsia’s adviser, calls this designer protein a “Death Star.” Imaged on his computer, its structure shows some resemblance to the notorious Star Wars superweapon. Though microscopic, by protein standards it’s enormous: a sphere made out of many interlocking pieces.

    The Death Star artificial protein. Institute for Protein Design

    “We’ve figured out a way to put these building blocks together at the right angles to form these very complex nanostructures,” Baker explains. He plans to stud the exterior with proteins from a whole suite of flu strains so that the immune system will learn to recognize them and be prepared to fend off future invaders. A single Death Star will carry 20 different strains of the influenza virus.

    Baker hopes this collection will cover the entire range of possible influenza mutation combinations. This all-in-one preview of present and future flu strains could replace annual shots: Get the Death Star vaccination, and you’ll already have the requisite antibodies in your bloodstream.

    As Baker bets on designer proteins to defeat influenza, others are betting on David Baker.

    After revolutionizing the study of proteins — molecules that perform crucial tasks in every cell of every natural organism — Baker is now engineering them from scratch to improve on nature. In late 2017, the Open Philanthropy Project gave his University of Washington Institute for Protein Design more than $10 million to develop the Death Star and support Rosetta, the software platform he conceived in the 1990s to discover how proteins are assembled. Rosetta has allowed Baker’s lab not only to advance basic science and pioneer new kinds of vaccines, but also to create drugs for genetic disorders, biosensors to detect toxins and enzymes to convert waste into biofuels.

    His team currently numbers about 80 grad students and postdocs, and Baker is in constant contact with all of them. He challenges their assumptions and tweaks their experiments while maintaining an egalitarian environment in which ideas may come from anyone. He calls his operation a “communal brain.” Over the past quarter-century, this brain has generated nearly 450 scientific papers.

    “David is literally creating a new field of chemistry right in front of our eyes,” says Raymond Deshaies, senior vice president for discovery research at the biotech company Amgen and former professor of biology at Caltech. “He’s had one first after another.”

    Nature’s Origami

    When Baker was studying philosophy at Harvard University, he took a biology class that taught him about the so-called “protein folding problem.” The year was 1983, and scientists were still trying to make sense of an experiment, carried out in the early ’60s by biochemist Christian Anfinsen, that revealed the fundamental building blocks of all life on Earth were more complex than anyone imagined.

    The experiment was relatively straightforward. Anfinsen mixed a sample of the protein ribonuclease — which breaks down RNA — with a denaturant, a chemical that deactivated it. Then he allowed the denaturant to evaporate. The protein started to function again as if nothing ever happened.

    What made this simple experiment so striking was the fact that the amino acids in protein molecules are folded in three-dimensional forms that make origami look like child’s play. When the denaturant unfolded Anfinsen’s ribonuclease, there were myriad ways it could refold, resulting in structures as different as an origami crane and a paper airplane. Much as the folds determine whether a piece of paper can fly across a room, only one fold pattern would result in functioning ribonuclease. So the puzzle was this: How do proteins “know” how to refold properly?

    “Anfinsen showed that the information for both structure and activity resided in the sequence of amino acids,” says University of California, Los Angeles, biochemist David Eisenberg, who has been researching protein folding since the 1960s. “There was a hope that it would be possible to use sequence information to get three-dimensional structural information. Well, that proved much more difficult than anticipated.”

    Protein molecules play critical roles in every aspect of life. The way each protein folds determines its function, and the ways to fold are virtually limitless, as shown in this small selection of proteins visualized through the software platform Rosetta, born in Baker’s lab. Institute for Protein Design.

    Baker was interested enough in protein folding and other unsolved mysteries of biology to switch majors and apply to grad school. “I’d never worked in a lab before,” he recalls. He had only a vague notion of what biologists did on a daily basis, but he also sensed that the big questions in science, unlike philosophy, could actually be answered.

    Grad school plunged Baker into the tediousness and frustrations of benchwork, while also nurturing some of the qualities that would later distinguish him. He pursued his Ph.D. under Randy Schekman, who was studying how molecules move within cells, at the University of California, Berkeley. To aid in this research, students were assigned the task of dismantling living cells to observe their internal molecular traffic. Nearly half a dozen of them, frustrated by the assignment’s difficulty, had given up by the time Baker got the job.

    Baker decided to follow his instincts even though it meant going against Schekman’s instructions. Instead of attempting to keep the processes within a cell still functioning as he dissected it under his microscope, Baker concentrated on preserving cell structure. If the cell were a wristwatch, his approach would be equivalent to focusing on the relationship between gears, rather than trying to keep it ticking, while taking it apart.

    “He was completely obsessed,” recalls Deshaies, who was his labmate at the time (and one of the students who’d surrendered). Nobody could stop Baker, or dissuade him. He worked for months until he proved his approach was correct: Cell structure drove function, so maintaining its anatomy preserved the internal transportation network. Deshaies believes Baker’s methodological breakthrough was “at the core of Randy’s Nobel Prize,” awarded in 2013 for working out one of the fundamentals of cellular machinery.

    But Baker didn’t dwell on his achievement, or cell biology for that matter. By 1989, Ph.D. in hand, he’d headed across the Bay to the University of California, San Francisco, where he switched his focus to structural biology and biochemistry. There he built computer models to study the physical properties of the proteins he worked with at the bench. Anfinsen’s puzzle remained unsolved, and when Baker got his first faculty appointment at the University of Washington, he took up the protein-folding problem full time.

    From Baker’s perspective, this progression was perfectly natural: “I was getting to more and more fundamental problems.” Deshaies believes Baker’s tortuous path, from cells to atoms and from test tubes to computers, has been a factor in his success. “He just has greater breadth than most people. And you couldn’t do what he’s done without being somewhat of a polymath.”

    Illustration above: National Science foundation. Illustrations below: Jay Smith

    Rosetta Milestone

    Every summer for more than a decade, scores of protein-folding experts convene at a resort in Washington’s Cascade Mountains for four days of hiking and shop talk. The only subject on the agenda: how to advance the software platform known as Rosetta.

    David Baker’s Rosetta@home project, a project running on BOINC software from UC Berkeley

    Rosetta@home BOINC project

    They call it Rosettacon.

    Rosetta has been the single most important tool in the quest to understand how proteins fold, and to design new proteins based on that knowledge. It is the link between Anfinsen’s ribonuclease experiment and Baker’s Death Star vaccine.

    When Baker arrived at the University of Washington in 1993, researchers knew that a protein’s function was determined by its structure, which was determined by the sequence of its amino acids. Just 20 different amino acids were known to provide all the raw ingredients. (Their particular order — specified by DNA — makes one protein fold into, say, a muscle fiber and another fold into a hormone.) Advances in X-ray crystallography, a technique for imaging molecular structure, had provided images of many proteins in all their folded splendor. Sequencing techniques had also improved, benefitting from the Human Genome Project as well as the exponential increase in raw computing power.

    “There’s a right time for things,” Baker says in retrospect. “To some extent, it’s just luck and historical circumstance. This was definitely the right time for this field.”

    Which is not to say that modeling proteins on a computer was a simple matter of plugging in the data. Proteins fold to their lowest free energy state: All of their amino acids must align in equilibrium. The trouble is that the equilibrium state is just one of hundreds of thousands of options — or millions, if the amino acid sequence is long. That’s far too many possibilities to test one at a time. Nature must have another way of operating, given that folding is almost instantaneous.

    Baker’s initial approach was to study what nature was doing. He broke apart proteins to see how individual pieces behaved, and he found that each fragment was fluctuating among many possible structures. “And then folding would occur when they all happened to be in the right geometry at the same time,” he says. Baker designed Rosetta to simulate this dance for any amino acid sequence.

    Baker wasn’t alone in trying to predict how proteins fold. In 1994, the protein research community organized a biennial competition called CASP (Critical Assessment of Protein Structure Prediction). Competitors were given the amino acid sequences of proteins and challenged to anticipate how they would fold.

    The first two contests were a flop. Structures that competitors number-crunched looked nothing like folded proteins, let alone the specific proteins they were meant to predict. Then everything changed in 1998.

    Rosetta’s impressive computational power allows researchers to predict how proteins — long, complex chains of amino acids — will fold; the platform also helps them reverse engineer synthetic proteins to perform specific tasks in medicine and other fields. Brian Dalbalcon/UW Medicine.

    Function Follows Form

    That summer, Baker’s team received 20 sequences from CASP, a considerable number of proteins to model. But Baker was optimistic: Rosetta would transform protein-folding prediction from a parlor game into legitimate science.

    In addition to incorporating fresh insights from the bench, team members — using a janky collection of computers made of spare parts — found a way to run rough simulations tens of thousands of times to determine which fold combinations were most likely.

    They successfully predicted structures for 12 out of the 20 proteins. The predictions were the best yet, but still approximations of actual proteins. In essence, the picture was correct, but blurry.

    Improvements followed rapidly, with increased computing power contributing to higher-resolution models, as well as improved ability to predict the folding of longer amino acid chains. One major leap was the 2005 launch of Rosetta@Home, a screensaver that runs Rosetta on hundreds of thousands of networked personal computers whenever they’re not being used by their owners.

    Yet the most significant source of progress has been RosettaCommons, the community that has formed around Rosetta. Originating in Baker’s laboratory and growing with the ever-increasing number of University of Washington graduates — as well as their students and colleagues — it is Baker’s communal brain writ large.

    Dozens of labs continue to refine the software, adding insights from genetics and methods from machine learning. New ideas and applications are constantly emerging.

    Protein (in green) enveloping fentanyl molecule. Bick et al. eLife 2017.

    The communal brain has answered Anfinsen’s big question — a protein’s specific amino acid alignment creates its unique folding structure — and is now posing even bigger ones.

    “I think the protein-folding problem is effectively solved,” Baker says. “We can’t necessarily predict every protein structure accurately, but we understand the principles.

    “There are so many things that proteins do in nature: light harvesting, energy storage, motion, computation,” he adds. “Proteins that just evolved by pure, blind chance can do all these amazing things. What happens if you actually design proteins intelligently?”

    De Novo Design

    Matthew Bick is trying to coax a protein into giving up its sugar habit for a full-blown fentanyl addiction. His computer screen shows a colorful image of ribbons and swirls representing the protein’s molecular structure. A sort of Technicolor Tinkertoy floats near the center, representing the opioid. “You see how it has really good packing?” he asks me, tracing the ribbons with his finger. “The protein kind of envelops the whole fentanyl molecule like a hot dog bun.”

    A postdoctoral fellow in Baker’s lab, Bick engineers protein biosensors using Rosetta. The project originated with the U.S. Department of Defense. “Back in 2002, Chechen rebels took a bunch of people hostage, and there was a standoff with the Russian government,” he says. The Russians released a gas, widely believed to contain a fentanyl derivative, that killed more than a hundred people. Since then, the Defense Department has been interested in simple ways to detect fentanyl in the environment in case it’s used for chemical warfare in the future.

    Proteins are ideal molecular sensors. In the natural world, they’ve evolved to bind to specific molecules like a lock and key. The body uses this system to identify substances in its environment. Scent is one example; specific volatiles from nutrients and toxins fit into dedicated proteins lining the nose, the first step in alerting the brain to their presence. With protein design, the lock can be engineered to order.

    For the fentanyl project, Bick instructed Rosetta to modify a protein with a natural affinity for the sugar xylotetraose. The software generated hundreds of thousands of designs, each representing a modification of the amino acid sequence predicted to envelop fentanyl instead of sugar molecules. An algorithm then selected the best several hundred options, which Bick evaluated by eye, eventually choosing 62 promising candidates. The protein on Bick’s screen was one of his favorites.

    “After this, we do the arduous work of testing designs in the lab,” Bick says.

    Cassie Bryan, a senior fellow at Baker’s Institute for Protein Design at the University of Washington, checks on a tube of synthetic proteins. The proteins, not seen in nature, are in the process of thawing and being prepped to test how they perform. Brian Dalbalcon/UW Medicine.

    With another image, he reveals his results. All 62 contenders have been grown in yeast cells infused with synthetic genes that spur the yeasts’ own amino acids to produce the foreign proteins. The transgenic yeast cells have been exposed to fentanyl molecules tagged with a fluorescing chemical. By measuring the fluorescence — essentially shining ultraviolet light on the yeast cells to see how many glow with fentanyl — Bick can determine which candidates bind to the opioid with the greatest strength and consistency.

    Baker’s lab has already leveraged this research to make a practical environmental sensor. Modified to glow when fentanyl binds to the receptor site, Bick’s customized protein can now be grown in a common plant called thale cress. This transgenic weed can cover terrain where chemical weapons might get deployed, and then glow if the dangerous substances are present, providing an early warning system for soldiers and health workers.

    The concept can also be applied to other biohazards. For instance, Bick is now developing a sensor for aflatoxin, a residue of fungus that grows on grain, causing liver cancer when consumed by humans. He wants the sensor to be expressed in the grain itself, letting people know when their food is unsafe.

    But he’s going about things differently this time around. Instead of modifying an existing protein, he’s starting from scratch. “That way, we can control a lot of things better than in natural proteins,” he explains. His de novo protein can be much simpler, and have more predictable behavior, because it doesn’t carry many million years of evolutionary baggage.

    For Baker, de novo design represents the summit of his quarter-century quest. The latest advances in Rosetta allow him to work backward from a desired function to an appropriate structure to a suitable amino acid sequence. And he can use any amino acids at all — thousands of options, some already synthesized and others waiting to be designed — not only the 20 that are standard in nature for building proteins.

    Without the freedom of de novo protein design, Baker’s Death Star would never have gotten off the ground. His group is now also designing artificial viruses. Like natural viruses, these protein shells can inject genetic material into cells. But instead of infecting you with a pathogen, their imported DNA would patch dangerous inherited mutations. Other projects aim to take on diseases ranging from malaria to Alzheimer’s.

    In Baker’s presence, protein design no longer seems so extraordinary. Coming out of a brainstorming session — his third or fourth of the day — he pulls me aside and makes the case that his calling is essentially the destiny of our species.

    “All the proteins in the world today are the product of natural selection,” he tells me. “But the current world is quite a bit different than the world in which we evolved. We live much longer, so we have a whole new class of diseases. We put all these nasty chemicals into the environment. We have new needs for capturing energy.

    “Novel proteins could solve a lot of the problems that we face today,” he says, already moving to his next meeting. “The goal of protein design is to bring those into existence.”

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

  • richardmitnick 12:43 pm on September 18, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Completely artificial fluorescent beta-barrel protein, Dr. David Baker, ,   

    From Rosetta@home: “Fluorescent proteins designed from scratch” 


    From Rosetta@home

    17 Sep 2018
    University of Washington


    Dr. David Baker, Baker Lab, U Washington

    Congrats to all Rosetta@home volunteers who contributed to a recent report in Nature describing the design of a completely artificial fluorescent beta-barrel protein. As described by one of the main authors, Anastassia, in this forum post:

    The paper presents many “firsts” in computational protein design. It is the first de novo design of the beta-barrel fold (one of the most described folds in the past 35 years, yet mysterious until now). It is also the first de novo design of a protein tailored to bind a small-molecule, which requires very high accuracy in the placement of side chains on protein backbones assembled from scratch. Additionally, we could show that these new proteins could fold and function as expected in vivo! We hope that the advances described in the paper will further enable the de novo design of many biosensors and catalysts tailored for specific applications.

    Thanks to all the Rosetta@home volunteers who contributed to the validation of our designed proteins and binding sites.

    Here is the link to the IPD webpage that contains a copy of the paper. The work was also featured in the news articles below (the news in Science contains a video of one of our proteins glowing in living cells).



    See the full article here.


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Rosetta@home needs your help to determine the 3-dimensional shapes of proteins in research that may ultimately lead to finding cures for some major human diseases. By running the Rosetta program on your computer while you don’t need it you will help us speed up and extend our research in ways we couldn’t possibly attempt without your help. You will also be helping our efforts at designing new proteins to fight diseases such as HIV, Malaria, Cancer, and Alzheimer’s (See our Disease Related Research for more information). Please join us in our efforts! Rosetta@home is not for profit.

    About Rosetta

    One of the major goals of Rosetta is to predict the shapes that proteins fold up into in nature. Proteins are linear polymer molecules made up of amino acid monomers and are often refered to as “chains.” Amino acids can be considered as the “links” in a protein “chain”. Here is a simple analogy. When considering a metal chain, it can have many different shapes depending on the forces exerted upon it. For example, if you pull its ends, the chain will extend to a straight line and if you drop it on the floor, it will take on a unique shape. Unlike metal chains that are made of identical links, proteins are made of 20 different amino acids that each have their own unique properties (different shapes, and attractive and repulsive forces, for example), and in combination, the amino acids exert forces on the chain to make it take on a specific shape, which we call a “fold.” The order in which the amino acids are linked determines the protein’s fold. There are many kinds of proteins that vary in the number and order of their amino acids.

    To predict the shape that a particular protein adopts in nature, what we are really trying to do is find the fold with the lowest energy. The energy is determined by a number of factors. For example, some amino acids are attracted to each other so when they are close in space, their interaction provides a favorable contribution to the energy. Rosetta’s strategy for finding low energy shapes looks like this:

    Start with a fully unfolded chain (like a metal chain with its ends pulled).
    Move a part of the chain to create a new shape.
    Calculate the energy of the new shape.
    Accept or reject the move depending on the change in energy.
    Repeat 2 through 4 until every part of the chain has been moved a lot of times.

    We call this a trajectory. The end result of a trajectory is a predicted structure. Rosetta keeps track of the lowest energy shape found in each trajectory. Each trajectory is unique, because the attempted moves are determined by a random number. They do not always find the same low energy shape because there are so many possibilities.

    A trajectory may consist of two stages. The first stage uses a simplified representation of amino acids which allows us to try many different possible shapes rapidly. This stage is regarded as a low resolution search and on the screen saver you will see the protein chain jumping around a lot. In the second stage, Rosetta uses a full representation of amino acids. This stage is refered to as “relaxation.” Instead of moving around a lot, the protein tries smaller changes in an attempt to move the amino acids to their correct arrangment. This stage is regarded as a high resolution search and on the screen saver, you will see the protein chain jiggle around a little. Rosetta can do the first stage in a few minutes on a modern computer. The second stage takes longer because of the increased complexity when considering the full representation (all atoms) of amino acids.

    Your computer typically generates 5-20 of these trajectories (per work unit) and then sends us back the lowest energy shape seen in each one. We then look at all of the low energy shapes, generated by all of your computers, to find the very lowest ones. This becomes our prediction for the fold of that protein.

    To join this project, download and install the BOINC software on which it runs. Then attach to the project. While you are at BOINC, look at some of the other projects to see what else might be of interest to you.

    U Washington Dr. David Baker

    Rosetta screensaver


    My BOINC

  • richardmitnick 6:52 pm on March 6, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Dr. David Baker, , , , U Wasington Medicine News Room   

    From UW Medicine Newsroom: “Scientists create complex transmembrane proteins from scratch” 

    U Washington
    University of Washington

    UW Medicine Newsroom

    March 1, 2018
    Leila Gray

    The ability to build transmembrane proteins opens the way for custom-designing structures that span living cell membranes and perform new tasks.

    Four computer-designed proteins combine to form a transmembrane tetramer with the top of structure facing the cytoplasm. Institute for Protein Design.

    In the living world, transmembrane proteins are found embedded in the membrane of all cells and cellular organelles. They are essential for them to function normally. For example, many naturally occurring transmembrane proteins act as gateways for the movement of specific substances across a biological membrane. Some transmembrane proteins receive or transmit cell signals. Because of such roles, many drugs are designed to target transmembrane proteins and alter their function.

    Now researcher are looking at designing the transmembrane proteins themselve to perform specific tasks.

    “Our results pave the way for the design of multispan membrane proteins that could mimic proteins found in nature or have entirely novel structure, function and uses,” said David Baker, a University of Washington School of Medicine professor biochemistry and director of the UW Institute of Protein Design who led the project.

    U Washington Dr. David Baker

    David Baker’s Rosetta@home project, a project running on BOINC software from UC Berkeley

    But understanding how transmembrane proteins are put together and how they work has proved challenging. Because they act while embedded within the cellular membrane, transmembrane proteins have proven to be more difficult to study than proteins that operate in the watery solution that make up the cells’ cytoplasm or in the extracellular fluid.

    In the new study, Lu and his coworkers used a computer program, developed in the Baker lab and called Rosetta, that can predict the structure a protein will fold into after it has been synthesized. The architecture of a protein is crucial because a protein’s structure determines its function.

    A protein’s shape forms from complex interactions between the amino acids that make up the protein chain and between the amino acids and the surrounding environment. Ultimately, the protein assumes the shape that best balances out all these factors so that the protein achieves the lowest possible energy state.

    The Rosetta program used by Lu and his colleagues can predict the structure of a protein by taking into account these interactions and calculating the lowest overall energy state. It is not unusual for the program to create tens of thousands of model structures for an amino acid sequence and then identify the ones with lowest energy state. The resulting models have been shown to accurately represent the structure the sequence will likely assume in nature.

    Determining the structure of transmembrane proteins is difficult because portions of transmembrane proteins must pass though the membrane’s interior, which is made of oily fats called lipids.

    In aqueous fluids, amino acid residues that have polar sidechains – components that can have a charge under certain physiological conditions or that participate in hydrogen bonding — tend to be located on the surface of the protein where they can interact with water, which has negatively and positively side charges to its molecule. As a result, polar residues on proteins are called hydrophilic, or “water-loving.”

    Non-polar residues, on the other hand, tend to be found packed within the protein core away from the polar aqueous fluid. Such residues are called hydrophobic or “water-fearing.” As a result, the interaction between the water-loving and water-fearing residues of the protein and the surrounding watery fluids helps drive protein folding and stabilizes the protein’s final structure.

    In membranes, however, protein folding is more complicated because the lipid interior of the membrane is non-polar, that is, it has no separation of electrical charges. This means to be stable the protein must place nonpolar, water-fearing residues on its surface, and pack its polar, water-loving residues inside. Then it must find a way to stabilize its structure by creating bonds between the hydrophilic residues within its core.

    The key to solving the problem, said Lu, was to apply a method developed by Baker lab to design the transmembrane portion so that the polar, hydrophilic residues fit in such a way that enough would form hydrongen bonds– that can tie the protein together from within

    “Putting together these ‘buried hydrogen bond networks’ was like putting together a jig-saw puzzle,” Baker said.

    With this approach, Lu and his colleagues were able to manufacture the designed transmembrane proteins inside bacteria and mammalian cells by using as many as 215 amino acids. The resulting proteins proved to be highly thermally stable and able to correctly orient themselves on the membrane. Like naturally occurring transmembrane proteins, the proteins are multipass, meaning they traverse the membrane several times, and assemble into stable multi-protein complexes, such as dimers, trimers and tetramers.

    “We have shown that it is now possible to accurately design complex, multipass transmembrane proteins that can be expressed in cells. This will make it possible for researchers to design transmembrane proteins with entirely novel structures and functions,” said Lu.

    This work was supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, National Institutes of Health (R01GM063919), the Raymond and Beverly Sackler fellowship, and the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF- 2016R1A6A3A03007871).

    The research is reported in the March 1 issue of the journal Science. Peilong Lu, a senior fellow in the Baker lab, is the paper’s lead author.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    About UW Medicine

    UW Medicine is one of the top-rated academic medical systems in the world. With a mission to improve the health of the public, UW Medicine educates the next generation of physicians and scientists, leads one of the world’s largest and most comprehensive biomedical research programs, and provides outstanding care to patients from across the globe.

    The UW School of Medicine, part of the UW Medicine system, leads the internationally recognized, community-based WWAMI Program, serving the states of Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. The school has been ranked No. 1 in the nation in primary-care training for more than 20 years by U.S. News & World Report. It is also second in the nation in federal research grants and contracts with $749.9 million in total revenue (fiscal year 2016) according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

    UW Medicine has more than 27,000 employees and an annual budget of nearly $5 billion. Also part of the UW Medicine system are Airlift Northwest and the UW Physicians practice group, the largest physician practice plan in the region. UW Medicine shares in the ownership and governance of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance with Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Seattle Children’s, and also shares in ownership of Children’s University Medical Group with Seattle Children’s.

    The University of Washington is one of the world’s preeminent public universities. Our impact on individuals, on our region, and on the world is profound — whether we are launching young people into a boundless future or confronting the grand challenges of our time through undaunted research and scholarship. Ranked number 10 in the world in Shanghai Jiao Tong University rankings and educating more than 54,000 students annually, our students and faculty work together to turn ideas into impact and in the process transform lives and our world. For more about our impact on the world, every day.
    So what defines us —the students, faculty and community members at the University of Washington? Above all, it’s our belief in possibility and our unshakable optimism. It’s a connection to others, both near and far. It’s a hunger that pushes us to tackle challenges and pursue progress. It’s the conviction that together we can create a world of good. Join us on the journey.

  • richardmitnick 5:20 pm on January 2, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Dr. David Baker, , , , Scientists Are Designing Artisanal Proteins for Your Body,   

    From NYT: “Scientists Are Designing Artisanal Proteins for Your Body” 

    New York Times

    The New York Times

    DEC. 26, 2017

    John Hersey

    The human body makes tens of thousands of cellular proteins, each for a particular
    task. Now researchers have learned to create custom versions not found in nature.

    Our bodies make roughly 20,000 different kinds of proteins, from the collagen in our skin to the hemoglobin in our blood. Some take the shape of molecular sheets. Others are sculpted into fibers, boxes, tunnels, even scissors.

    A protein’s particular shape enables it to do a particular job, whether ferrying oxygen through the body or helping to digest food.

    Scientists have studied proteins for nearly two centuries, and over that time they’ve worked out how cells create them from simple building blocks. They have long dreamed of assembling those elements into new proteins not found in nature.

    But they’ve been stumped by one great mystery: how the building blocks in a protein take their final shape. David Baker, 55, the director of the Institute for Protein Design at the University of Washington, has been investigating that enigma for a quarter-century.

    Now, it looks as if he and his colleagues have cracked it. Thanks in part to crowdsourced computers and smartphones belonging to over a million volunteers, the scientists have figured out how to choose the building blocks required to create a protein that will take on the shape they want.

    In a series of papers published this year, Dr. Baker and his colleagues unveiled the results of this work. They have produced thousands of different kinds of proteins, which assume the shape the scientists had predicted. Often those proteins are profoundly different from any found in nature.

    This expertise has led to a profound scientific advance: cellular proteins designed by man, not by nature. “We can now build proteins from scratch from first principles to do what we want,” said Dr. Baker.

    Dr. David Baker in his lab at the University of Washington, where scientists are learning how to create cellular proteins to perform a variety of tasks. Credit Evan McGlinn for The New York Times.

    Scientists soon will be able to construct precise molecular tools for a vast range of tasks, he predicts. Already, his team has built proteins for purposes ranging from fighting flu viruses to breaking down gluten in food to detecting trace amounts of opioid drugs.

    William DeGrado, a molecular biologist at the University of California, San Francisco, said the recent studies by Dr. Baker and his colleagues represent a milestone in this line of scientific inquiry. “In the 1980s, we dreamed about having such impressive outcomes,” he said.

    Every protein in nature is encoded by a gene. With that stretch of DNA as its guide, a cell assembles a corresponding protein from building blocks known as amino acids.

    Selecting from twenty or so different types, the cell builds a chain of amino acids. That chain may stretch dozens, hundreds or even thousands of units long. Once the cell finishes, the chain folds on itself, typically in just a few hundredths of a second.

    Proteins fold because each amino acid has an electric charge. Parts of the protein chain are attracted to one another while other parts are repelled. Some bonds between the amino acids will yield easily under these forces; rigid bonds will resist.

    The combination of all these atomic forces makes each protein a staggering molecular puzzle. When Dr. Baker attended graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley, no one knew how to look at a chain of amino acids and predict the shape into which it would fold. Protein scientists referred to the enigma simply as “the folding problem.”

    The folding problem left scientists in the Stone Age when it came to manipulating these important biological elements. They could only use proteins that they happened to find in nature, like early humans finding sharp rocks to cut meat from bones.

    We’ve used proteins for thousands of years. Early cheese makers, for example, made milk curdle by adding a piece of calf stomach to it. The protein chymosin, produced in the stomach, turned liquid milk into a semisolid form.

    Today scientists are still looking for ways to harness proteins. Some researchers are studying proteins in abalone shells in hopes of creating stronger body armor, for instance. Others are investigating spider silk for making parachute cords. Researchers also are experimenting with modest changes to natural proteins to see if tweaks let them do new things.

    To Dr. Baker and many other protein scientists, however, this sort tinkering has been deeply unsatisfying. The proteins found in nature represent only a minuscule fraction of the “protein universe” — all the proteins that could possibly be made with varying combinations of amino acids.

    “When people want a new protein, they look around in nature for things that already exist,” Dr. Baker said. “There’s no design involved.”

    Crowdsourced Discovery

    Dr. Baker has an elfin face, a cheerful demeanor, hair that can verge on chaotic, and a penchant for wearing T-shirts to scientific presentations. But his appearance belies a relentless drive.

    After graduating from Berkeley and joining the University of Washington, Dr. Baker joined the effort to solve the folding problem. He and his colleagues took advantage of the fact that natural proteins are somewhat similar to one another.

    New proteins do not just pop into existence; they all evolve from ancestral proteins. Whenever scientists figured out the shape of a particular protein, they were able to make informed guesses about the shapes of related ones.

    Scientists also relied on the fact that many proteins are made of similar parts. One common feature is a spiral stretch of amino acids called an alpha helix. Researchers learned how to recognize the series of amino acids that fold into these spirals.

    John Hersey

    In the late 1990s, the team at the University of Washington turned to software for individual studies of complex proteins. The lab decided to create a common language for all this code, so that researchers could access the collective knowledge about proteins.

    In 1998, they launched a platform called Rosetta, which scientists use to build virtual chains of amino acids and then compute the most likely form they will fold into.

    A community of protein scientists, known as the Rosetta Commons, grew around the platform. For the past twenty years, they’ve been improving the software on a daily basis and using it to better understand the shape of proteins — and how those shapes enable them to work.

    In 2005, Dr. Baker launched a program called Rosetta@home, which recruited volunteers to donate processing time on their home computers and, eventually, Android phones. Over the past 12 years, 1,266,542 people have joined the Rosetta@home community.

    My BOINC

    I have 1,005,660 BOINC credits for Rosetta from my days as a BOINC cruncher.

    Rosetta@home project, a project running on BOINC software from UC Berkeley

    Step by step, Rosetta grew more powerful and more sophisticated, and the scientists were able to use the crowdsourced processing power to simulate folding proteins in greater detail. Their predictions grew startlingly more accurate.

    The researchers went beyond proteins that already exist to proteins with unnatural sequences. To see what these unnatural proteins looked like in real life, the scientists synthesized genes for them and plugged them into yeast cells, which then manufactured the lab’s creations.

    “There are subtleties going on in naturally occurring proteins that we still don’t understand,” Dr. Baker said. “But we’ve mostly solved the folding problem.”

    Proteins and Pandemics

    These advances gave Dr. Baker’s team the confidence to take on an even bigger challenge: They began to design proteins from scratch for particular jobs. The researchers would start with a task they wanted a protein to do, and then figure out the string of amino acids that would fold the right way to get the job done.

    In one of their experiments, they teamed up with Ian Wilson, a virologist at Scripps Research Institute, to devise a protein to fight the flu.

    Dr. Wilson has been searching ways to neutralize the infection, and his lab had identified one particularly promising target: a pocket on the surface of the virus. If scientists could make a protein that fit snugly in that pocket, it might prevent the virus from slipping into cells.

    Dr. Baker’s team used Rosetta to design such a protein, narrowing their search to several thousand of chains of amino acids that might do the job. They simulated the folding of each one, looking for the combinations that might fit into the viral niche.

    The researchers then used engineered yeast to turn the semifinalists into real proteins. They turned the proteins loose on the flu viruses. Some grabbed onto the viruses better than others, and the researchers refined their molecular creations until they ended up with one they named HB1.6928.2.3.

    To see how effective HB1.6928.2.3 was at stopping flu infections, they ran experiments on mice. They sprayed the protein into the noses of mice and then injected them with a heavy doses of influenza, which normally would be fatal.

    But the protein provided 100 percent protection from death. It remains to be seen if HB1.6928.2.3 can prove its worth in human trials.

    “It would be nice to have a front-line drug if a new pandemic was about to happen,” Dr. Wilson said.

    In Dr. Baker’s office are models of complex proteins. The human body makes roughly 20,000, each suited to a different task. Credit Evan McGlinn for The New York Times

    HB1.6928.2.3 is just one of a number of proteins that Dr. Baker and his colleagues have designed and tested. They’ve also made a molecule that blocks the toxin that causes botulism, and one that can detect tiny amounts of the opioid fentanyl. Yet another protein may help people who can’t tolerate gluten by cutting apart gluten molecules in food.

    Last week, Dr. Baker’s team presented one of its most ambitious projects: a protein shell that can carry genes.

    The researchers designed proteins that assemble themselves like Legos, snapping together into a hollow sphere. In the process, they can also enclose genes and can carry that cargo safely for hours in the bloodstream of mice.

    These shells bear some striking resemblances to viruses, although they lack the molecular wherewithal to invade cells. “We sometimes call them not-a-viruses,” Dr. Baker said.

    A number of researchers are experimenting with viruses as a means for delivering genes through the body. These genes can reverse hereditary disorders; in other experiments, they show promise as a way to reprogram immune cells to fight cancer.

    But as the product of billions of years of evolution, viruses often don’t perform well as gene mules. “If we build a delivery system from the ground up, it should work better,” Dr. Baker said.

    Gary Nabel, chief scientific officer at Sanofi, said that the new research may lead to the invention of molecules we can’t yet imagine. “It’s a new territory, because you’re not modeling existing proteins,” he said.

    For now, Dr. Baker and his colleagues can only make short-chained proteins. That’s due in part to the cost involved in making pieces of DNA to encode proteins.

    But that technology is improving so quickly that the team is now testing longer, bigger proteins that might do more complex jobs — among them fighting cancer.

    In cancer immunotherapy, the immune system recognizes cancer cells by the distinctive proteins on their surface. The immune system relies on antibodies that can recognize only a single protein.

    Dr. Baker wants to design proteins that trigger a response only after they lock onto several kinds of proteins on the surface of cancer cells at once. He suspects these molecules will be better able to recognize cancer cells while leaving healthy ones alone.

    Essentially, he said, “we’re designing molecules that can do simple logic calculations.” Indeed, he hopes eventually to make molecular machines.

    Our cells generate fuel with one such engine, a gigantic protein called ATP synthase, which acts like a kind of molecular waterwheel. As positively charged protons pour through a ring of amino acids, it spins a hundred times a second. ATP synthase harnesses that energy to build a fuel molecule called ATP.

    It should be possible to build other such complex molecular machines as scientists learn more about how big proteins take shape, Dr. Baker said.

    “There’s a lot of things that nature has come up with just by randomly bumbling around,” he said. “As we understand more and more of the basic principles, we ought to be able to do far better.”

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

  • richardmitnick 9:21 am on May 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Unleashing the Power of Synthetic Proteins, Dr. David Baker, , , ,   

    From Nautilus: “Unleashing the Power of Synthetic Proteins” 



    March 2017
    David Baker, Baker Lab, U Washngton, BOINC Rosetta@home project

    Dr. David Baker

    Rosetta@home project

    The opportunities for the design of synthetic proteins are endless.

    Proteins are the workhorses of all living creatures, fulfilling the instructions of DNA. They occur in a wide variety of complex structures and carry out all the important functions in our body and in all living organisms—digesting food, building tissue, transporting oxygen through the bloodstream, dividing cells, firing neurons, and powering muscles. Remarkably, this versatility comes from different combinations, or sequences, of just 20 amino acid molecules. How these linear sequences fold up into complex structures is just now beginning to be well understood (see box).

    Even more remarkably, nature seems to have made use of only a tiny fraction of the potential protein structures available—and there are many. Therein lies an amazing set of opportunities to design novel proteins with unique structures: synthetic proteins that do not occur in nature, but are made from the same set of naturally-occurring amino acids. These synthetic proteins can be “manufactured” by harnessing the genetic machinery of living things, such as in bacteria given appropriate DNA that specify the desired amino acid sequence. The ability to create and explore such synthetic proteins with atomic level accuracy—which we have demonstrated—has the potential to unlock new areas of basic research and to create practical applications in a wide range of fields.

    The design process starts by envisioning a novel structure to solve a particular problem or accomplish a specific function, and then works backwards to identify possible amino acid sequences that can fold up to this structure. The Rosetta protein modelling and design software identifies the most likely candidates—those that fold to the lowest energy state for the desired structure. Those sequences then move from the computer to the lab, where the synthetic protein is created and tested—preferably in partnership with other research teams that bring domain expertise for the type of protein being created.

    At present no other advanced technology can beat the remarkable precision with which proteins carry out their unique and beautiful functions. The methods of protein design expand the reach of protein technology, because the possibilities to create new synthetic proteins are essentially unlimited. We illustrate that claim with some of the new proteins we have already developed using this design process, and with examples of the fundamental research challenges and areas of practical application that they exemplify:

    This image shows a designed synthetic protein of a type known as a TIM-barrel. Naturally occurring TIM-barrel proteins are found in a majority of enzymes, the catalysts that facilitate biochemical reactions in our bodies, in part because the circular cup-like or barrel shape at their core provides an appropriate space for the reaction to occur. The synthetic protein shown here has an idealized TIM-barrel template or blueprint that can be customized with pockets and binding sites and catalytic agents specific to particular reactants; the eight helical arms of the protein enhance the reaction space. This process can be used to design whole new classes of enzymes that do not occur in nature. Illustration and protein design prepared by Possu Huang in David Baker’s laboratory, University of Washington.

    Catalysts for clean energy and medicine. Protein enzymes are the most efficient catalysts known, far more so than any synthesized by inorganic chemists. Part of that efficiency comes from their ability to accurately position key parts of the enzyme in relation to reacting molecules, providing an environment that accelerates a reaction or lowers the energy needed for it to occur. Exactly how this occurs remains a fundamental problem which more experience with synthetic proteins may help to resolve.

    Already we have produced synthetic enzymes that catalyze potentially useful new metabolic pathways. These include: reactions that take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert it into organic molecules, such as fuels, more efficiently than any inorganic catalyst, potentially enabling a carbon-neutral source of fuels; and reactions that address unsolved medical problems, including a potential oral therapeutic drug for patients with celiac disease that breaks down gluten in the stomach and other synthetic proteins to neutralize toxic amyloids found in Alzheimer’s disease.

    We have also begun to understand how to design, de novo, scaffolds that are the basis for entire superfamilies of known enzymes (Fig. 1) and other proteins known to bind the smaller molecules involved in basic biochemistry. This has opened the door for potential methods to degrade pollutants or toxins that threaten food safety.

    New super-strong materials. A potentially very useful new class of materials is that formed by hybrids of organic and inorganic matter. One naturally occurring example is abalone shell, which is made up of a combination of calcium carbonate bonded with proteins that results in a uniquely tough material. Apparently, other proteins involved in the process of forming the shell change the way in which the inorganic material precipitates onto the binding protein and also help organize the overall structure of the material. Synthetic proteins could potentially duplicate this process and expand this class of materials. Another class of materials are analogous to spider silk—organic materials that are both very strong and yet biodegradable—for which synthetic proteins might be uniquely suited, although how these are formed is not yet understood. We have also made synthetic proteins that create an interlocking pattern to form a surface only one molecule thick, which suggest possibilities for new anti-corrosion films or novel organic solar cells.

    Targeted therapeutic delivery. Self-assembling protein materials make a wide variety of containers or external barriers for living things, from protein shells for viruses to the exterior wall of virtually all living cells. We have developed a way to design and build similar containers: very small cage-like structures—protein nanoparticles—that self-assemble from one or two synthetic protein building blocks (Fig. 2). We do this extremely precisely, with control at the atomic level. Current work focuses on building these protein nanoparticles to carry a desired cargo—a drug or other therapeutic—inside the cage, while also incorporating other proteins of interest on their surface. The surface protein is chosen to bind to a similar protein on target cells.

    These self-assembling particles are a completely new way of delivering drugs to cells in a targeted fashion, avoiding harmful effects elsewhere in the body. Other nanoparticles might be designed to penetrate the blood-brain barrier, in order to deliver drugs or other therapies for brain diseases. We have also generated methods to design proteins that disrupt protein-protein interactions and proteins that bind to small molecules for use in biosensing applications, such as identifying pathogens. More fundamentally, synthetic proteins may well provide the tools that enable improved targeting of drugs and other therapies, as well as an improved ability to bond therapeutic packages tightly to a target cell wall.

    A tiny 20-sided protein nanoparticle that can deliver drugs or other therapies to specific cells in the body with minimal side effects. The nanoparticle self-assembles from two types of synthetic proteins. Illustration and protein design prepared by Jacob Bale in David Baker’s laboratory, University of Washington.

    Novel vaccines for viral diseases. In addition to drug delivery, self-assembling protein nanoparticles are a promising foundation for the design of vaccines. By displaying stabilized versions of viral proteins on the surfaces of designed nanoparticles, we hope to elicit strong and specific immune responses in cells to neutralize viruses like HIV and influenza. We are currently investigating the potential of these nanoparticles as vaccines against a number of viruses. The thermal stability of these designer vaccines should help eliminate the need for complicated cold chain storage systems, broadening global access to life saving vaccines and supporting goals for eradication of viral diseases. The ability to shape these designed vaccines with atomic level accuracy also enables a systematic study of how immune systems recognize and defend against pathogens. In turn, the findings will support development of tolerizing vaccines, which could train the immune system to stop attacking host tissues in autoimmune disease or over-reacting to allergens in asthma.

    New peptide medicines. Most approved drugs are either bulky proteins or small molecules. Naturally occurring peptides (amino acid compounds) that are constrained or stabilized so that they precisely complement their biological target are intermediate in size, and are among the most potent pharmacological compounds known. In effect, they have the advantages of both proteins and small molecule drugs. The antibiotic cyclosporine is a familiar example. Unfortunately such peptides are few in number.

    We have recently demonstrated a new computational design method that can generate two broad classes of peptides that have exceptional stability against heat or chemical degradation. These include peptides that can be genetically encoded (and can be produced by bacteria) as well as some that include amino acids that do not occur in nature. Such peptides are, in effect, scaffolds or design templates for creating whole new classes of peptide medicines.

    In addition, we have developed general methods for designing small and stable proteins that bind strongly to pathogenic proteins. One such designed protein binds the viral glycoprotein hemagglutinin, which is responsible for influenza entry into cells. These designed proteins protect infected mice in both a prophylactic and therapeutic manner and therefore are potentially very powerful anti-flu medicines. Similar methods are being applied to design therapeutic proteins against the Ebola virus and other targets that are relevant in cancer or autoimmune diseases. More fundamentally, synthetic proteins may be useful as test probes in working out the detailed molecular chemistry of the immune system.

    Protein logic systems. The brain is a very energy-efficient logic system based entirely on proteins. Might it be possible to build a logic system—a computer—from synthetic proteins that would self-assemble and be both cheaper and more efficient than silicon logic systems? Naturally occurring protein switches are well studied, but building synthetic switches remains an unsolved challenge. Quite apart from bio-technology applications, understanding protein logic systems may have more fundamental results, such as clarifying how our brains make decisions or initiate processes.

    The opportunities for the design of synthetic proteins are endless, with new research frontiers and a huge variety of practical applications to be explored. In effect, we have an emerging ability to design new molecules to solve specific problems—just as modern technology does outside the realm of biology. This could not be a more exciting time for protein design.

    Predicting Protein Structure

    If we were unable to predict the structure that results from a given sequence of amino acids, synthetic protein design would be an almost impossible task. There are 20 naturally-occurring amino acids, which can be linked in any order and can fold into an astronomical number of potential structures. Fortunately the structure prediction problem is now well on the way toward being solved by the Rosetta protein modeling software.

    The Rosetta tool evaluates possible structures, calculates their energy states, and identifies the lowest energy structure—usually, the one that occurs in a living organism. For smaller proteins, Rosetta predictions are already reasonably accurate. The power and accuracy of the Rosetta algorithms are steadily improving thanks to the work of a cooperative global network of several hundred protein scientists. New discoveries—such as identifying amino acid pairs that co-evolve in living systems and thus are likely to be co-located in protein structures—are also helping to improve prediction accuracy.

    Our research team has already revealed the structures for more than a thousand protein families, and we expect to be able to predict the structure for nearly any protein within a few years. This is an important achievement with direct significance for basic biology and biomedical science, since understanding structure leads to understanding the function of the myriad proteins found in the human body and in all living things. Moreover, predicting protein structure is also the critical enabling tool for designing novel, “synthetic” proteins that do not occur in nature.

    How to Create Synthetic Proteins that Solve Important Problems

    A graduate student in the Baker lab and a researcher at the Institute for Protein Design discuss a bacterial culture (in the Petri dish) that is producing synthetic proteins. Source: Laboratory of David Baker, University of Washington.

    Now that it is possible to design a variety of new proteins from scratch, it is imperative to identify the most pressing problems that need to be solved, and focus on designing the types of proteins that are needed to address these problems. Protein design researchers need to collaborate with experts in a wide variety of fields to take our work from initial protein design to the next stages of development. As the examples above suggest, those partners should include experts in industrial scale catalysis, fundamental materials science and materials processing, biomedical therapeutics and diagnostics, immunology and vaccine design, and both neural systems and computer logic. The partnerships should be sustained over multiple years in order to prioritize the most important problems and test successive potential solutions.

    A funding level of $100M over five years would propel protein design to the forefront of biomedical research, supporting multiple and parallel collaborations with experts worldwide to arrive at breakthroughs in medicine, energy, and technology, while also furthering a basic understanding of biological processes. Current funding is unable to meet the demands of this rapidly growing field and does not allow for the design and production of new proteins at an appropriate scale for testing and ultimately production, distribution, and implementation. Private philanthropy could overcome this deficit and allow us to jump ahead to the next generation of proteins—and thus to use the full capacity of the amino acid legacy that evolution has provided us.

    My BOINC

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Welcome to Nautilus. We are delighted you joined us. We are here to tell you about science and its endless connections to our lives. Each month we choose a single topic. And each Thursday we publish a new chapter on that topic online. Each issue combines the sciences, culture and philosophy into a single story told by the world’s leading thinkers and writers. We follow the story wherever it leads us. Read our essays, investigative reports, and blogs. Fiction, too. Take in our games, videos, and graphic stories. Stop in for a minute, or an hour. Nautilus lets science spill over its usual borders. We are science, connected.

  • richardmitnick 1:03 pm on April 30, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Dr. David Baker, ,   

    From David Baker at Rosetta@home: Rosetta Chosen for the BOINC Pentathlon 

    This is a post from Dr. David Baker, The Baker Lab at the University of Washington, the site of rosetta@home.

    Dr. David Baker

    “I have just been told the very good news that Rosetta@home will be the first project of the BOINC pentathlon, and would like to thank all of the participating teams. I also just learned from the discussion thread that Rosetta@home will be the project of the month for BOINC synergy-this is more excellent news!!

    Your increased contributions to rosetta@home could not come at a better time! We’ve been testing our improved structure prediction methodology in a recently started challenge called CAMEO. For most of the targets, the Rosetta@home models are extremely good, but for a minority of targets the predictions are not good at all. We’ve now tracked down the source of these failures and it is what we are calling “workunit starvation”; in the limited amount of time the Rosetta server has to produce models (2-3 days) in these cases very few models were made-this happens because many targets are being run on the server so that only a fraction of your cpu power is focused on any one target. while we are working to fix this internally, by far the best solution is to have more total CPU throughput so each target gets more models.

    You can follow how we are doing at http://www.cameo3d.org/. You will see that Rosetta is one of the few servers whose name is not kept secret-this is because Rosetta is a public project. Our server receives targets from CAMEO and soon CASP, sends the required calculations out to your computers through Rosetta@home, and then processes the returned results and submits the lowest energy models.

    We are excited that the workunit starvation problem may go away through your increased efforts for Rosetta@home. Thanks!!!”

    David’s post is here.


    BOINC is a leader in the field(s) of Distributed Computing, Grid Computing and Citizen Cyberscience.BOINC is more properly the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing, developed at UC Berkeley.

    Visit the BOINC web page, click on Choose projects and check out some of the very worthwhile studies you will find. Then click on Download and run BOINC software/ All Versons. Download and install the current software for your 32bit or 64bit system, for Windows, Mac or Linux. When you install BOINC, it will install its screen savers on your system as a default. You can choose to run the various project screen savers or you can turn them off. Once BOINC is installed, in BOINC Manager/Tools, click on “Add project or account manager” to attach to projects. Many BOINC projects are listed there, but not all, and, maybe not the one(s) in which you are interested. You can get the proper URL for attaching to the project at the projects’ web page(s) BOINC will never interfere with any other work on your computer.


    SETI@home The search for extraterrestrial intelligence. “SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) is a scientific area whose goal is to detect intelligent life outside Earth. One approach, known as radio SETI, uses radio telescopes to listen for narrow-bandwidth radio signals from space. Such signals are not known to occur naturally, so a detection would provide evidence of extraterrestrial technology.

    Radio telescope signals consist primarily of noise (from celestial sources and the receiver’s electronics) and man-made signals such as TV stations, radar, and satellites. Modern radio SETI projects analyze the data digitally. More computing power enables searches to cover greater frequency ranges with more sensitivity. Radio SETI, therefore, has an insatiable appetite for computing power.

    Previous radio SETI projects have used special-purpose supercomputers, located at the telescope, to do the bulk of the data analysis. In 1995, David Gedye proposed doing radio SETI using a virtual supercomputer composed of large numbers of Internet-connected computers, and he organized the SETI@home project to explore this idea. SETI@home was originally launched in May 1999.”

    SETI@home is the birthplace of BOINC software. Originally, it only ran in a screensaver when the computer on which it was installed was doing no other work. With the powerand memory available today, BOINC can run 24/7 without in any way interfering with other ongoing work.

    The famous SET@home screen saver, a beauteous thing to behold.

    einstein@home The search for pulsars. “Einstein@Home uses your computer’s idle time to search for weak astrophysical signals from spinning neutron stars (also called pulsars) using data from the LIGO gravitational-wave detectors, the Arecibo radio telescope, and the Fermi gamma-ray satellite. Einstein@Home volunteers have already discovered more than a dozen new neutron stars, and we hope to find many more in the future. Our long-term goal is to make the first direct detections of gravitational-wave emission from spinning neutron stars. Gravitational waves were predicted by Albert Einstein almost a century ago, but have never been directly detected. Such observations would open up a new window on the universe, and usher in a new era in astronomy.”

    MilkyWay@Home Milkyway@Home uses the BOINC platform to harness volunteered computing resources, creating a highly accurate three dimensional model of the Milky Way galaxy using data gathered by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. This project enables research in both astroinformatics and computer science.”

    Leiden Classical “Join in and help to build a Desktop Computer Grid dedicated to general Classical Dynamics for any scientist or science student!”

    World Community Grid (WCG) World Community Grid is a special case at BOINC. WCG is part of the social initiative of IBM Corporation and the Smarter Planet. WCG has under its umbrella currently eleven disparate projects at globally wide ranging institutions and universities. Most projects relate to biological and medical subject matter. There are also projects for Clean Water and Clean Renewable Energy. WCG projects are treated respectively and respectably on their own at this blog. Watch for news.

    Rosetta@home “Rosetta@home needs your help to determine the 3-dimensional shapes of proteins in research that may ultimately lead to finding cures for some major human diseases. By running the Rosetta program on your computer while you don’t need it you will help us speed up and extend our research in ways we couldn’t possibly attempt without your help. You will also be helping our efforts at designing new proteins to fight diseases such as HIV, Malaria, Cancer, and Alzheimer’s….”

    GPUGrid.net “GPUGRID.net is a distributed computing infrastructure devoted to biomedical research. Thanks to the contribution of volunteers, GPUGRID scientists can perform molecular simulations to understand the function of proteins in health and disease.” GPUGrid is a special case in that all processor work done by the volunteers is GPU processing. There is no CPU processing, which is the more common processing. Other projects (Einstein, SETI, Milky Way) also feature GPU processing, but they offer CPU processing for those not able to do work on GPU’s.

    These projects are just the oldest and most prominent projects. There are many others from which you can choose.

    There are currently some 300,000 users with about 480,000 computers working on BOINC projects That is in a world of over one billion computers. We sure could use your help.

    My BOINC


Compose new post
Next post/Next comment
Previous post/Previous comment
Show/Hide comments
Go to top
Go to login
Show/Hide help
shift + esc
%d bloggers like this: