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Scope of Physical Science

The study of matter and energy.

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Protein Origami

Protein Origami


Credit: Nuno Tavares
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Origami_(made_from_an_American_1-dollar_bill)_of_an_elephant.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

This origami elephant is very clever. It was created by folding and refolding a U.S. one-dollar bill. Getting the “eye” in just the right place must have taken some trial and error. But folding paper to make origami objects is child’s play compared with folding proteins to make them behave as you’d like.

Why It Matters

  • Proteins are molecules found in living things. They consist of one or more chains of smaller molecules called amino acids. Most protein molecules naturally fold up in characteristic ways. Their folded shape determines how they function.
  • Scientists are trying to make protein-like molecules to treat diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and MRSA infections. The shape of the molecules is important. The molecules have to fold up to just the right shape to do their job.
  • Watch the following video to learn how physical scientists are trying to fold molecules into certain shapes so they can fight specific diseases: http://www.nbclearn.com/chemistrynow/cuecard/54793. This work is a good example of the very wide scope of physical science. 

Can You Apply It?

Learn more about MRSA and protein structure at the links below. Then answer the questions that follow.

  1. Describe the structure of proteins.
  2. What determines how a protein folds and its overall shape?
  3. What device is used to measure the shape of a molecule? How does it work?
  4. What is MRSA?
  5. Why is it important to develop new molecules to treat MRSA infections? How would the molecules work?

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