September 4, 2012
The Institute for Protein Design and David Baker’s laboratory move into the new Molecular Engineering & Sciences building located in the heart of the University of Washington campus. Read about the Institute’s new home and its exciting research in the Seattle Times.
The four-story, $77 million Molecular Engineering & Sciences building opened this month, just south of Gerberding Hall. And unlike old labs of the past, which tended to be dark and isolating, this one is filled with sunlight and designed with collaborative spaces for scientists to work together across a range of disciplines…….Biochemistry professor David Baker gestured to researchers lined up in a row of desks, working on computers to design proteins that could help treat Ebola, Hodgkins Lymphoma and AIDS.
Baker said the most promising discoveries are licensed to private companies to carry on the research and find out if the proteins really do what researchers thought they would do. “We do simple things, generate the first working versions of protein designs, translate them into more improved versions, and then license the results to a pharmaceutical or biotech company,” he said.
Of those 400 proteins being investigated each month, about 25 to 50 a month are inspired by an unusual source: Online gamers playing Foldit, a free protein-folding game (www.fold.it), that was developed in collaboration between the UW’s molecular biology department and the UW’s Center for Game Science, Baker said.
About 230,000 players worldwide have downloaded the game, and use intuition and spatial reasoning to try to design proteins with stable, efficient designs.
Another contribution to unraveling protein structures comes from the more than 300,000 people who have downloaded a UW-designed program — Rosetta@home — which works kind of like a screen saver, taking advantage of processing time on idle computers. It, too, tries to work out the three-dimensional profile of proteins.