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Protein cages that can be assembled by the presence of metal ions

Proteins are key building blocks of all living organisms. Today we know how to artificially design proteins that have interesting properties and are not found in nature, such as the so-called coiled-coil protein origami. An important and useful property of proteins is if we can regulate their assembly and disassembly through chemical signals. An example of such a signal are metal ions, which are components of many natural proteins.

Researchers from the Department of Synthetic Biology and Immunology of the National Institute of Chemistry in Ljubljana, Slovenia, introduced appropriate amino acids into the sequence of peptides that enabled binding of zinc ions, in such way that their presence triggers the assembly of a selected pair of peptides, producing four such pairs. These peptides have been incorporated into nanoscale protein cages, where they can be assembled or disassembled, depending on the presence of zinc ions.

The research was conducted at the Department of Synthetic Biology and Immunology at the National Institute of Chemistry led by prof. Roman Jerala, while the main work was done by dr. Jana Aupič, who is currently continuing her postdoctoral training at the SISSA in Trieste. The research was accomplished within the European Research Council Advanced Grant MaCChines led by prof. Jerala and a program funded by the Slovenian Research Agency.

Authors: Jana Aupič, Fabio Lapenta, Žiga Strmšek, Estera Merljak, Tjaša Plaper, Roman Jerala.

Link:  https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.abm8243

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