Where would we be without proteins? Actually I’m not sure we’d be anywhere, or anything – not even some sort of unidentifiable gooey mess on the floor. All to say, proteins are vital to our very being. They provide scaffold-like support for our cells, replicate DNA, speed up chemical reactions and haul other molecules around the body. One property that lets them carry out such a range of tasks is their ability to self-assemble, and successfully replicating this property has stumped many a bioengineer. But now a team of scientists has managed to create a protein, which resembles a tiny cage, composed of 24 different subunits that can rearrange themselves into complex structures. The ability to design these protein ‘nanomachines’ engineered for specific applications could revolutionise targeted drug delivery. For example, cancer-drug molecules could be packaged inside nanocages – like the computer-model shown – and delivered directly to tumour cells, sparing healthy ones.
Written by Nick Kennedy
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