The Shape-Shifting Army Inside Your Cells

darkproteome_1kStructure equals function: If there’s one thing we all learned about proteins in high school biology, that would be it. According to the textbook story of the cell, a protein’s three-dimensional shape determines what it does — drive chemical reactions, pass signals up and down the cell’s information superhighway, or maybe hang molecular tags onto DNA. For more than a century, biologists have thought that the proteins carrying out these functions are like rigid cogs in the cell’s machinery.

Of course, exceptions would occasionally crop up. A scientist might bump into a protein that performed its functions perfectly well yet didn’t have rigid structures. Most researchers chalked these cases up to experimental error, or dismissed them as insignificant outliers.

More recently, however, biologists have begun paying attention to these shapeshifters. Their findings are tearing down the structure-function dogma.

[Read the story at Quanta // January  18, 2017]

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