Deanna Csomo McCool | March 2, 2018
Patricia Clark, Rev. John Cardinal O’Hara, C.S.C., Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Notre Dame, has been awarded a $1.1 million, four-year grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation to develop an innovative approach to replicate in test tubes a universal component of protein folding within cells.
Results from this medical research grant could shed new light on how deadly bacterial infections spread.
Clark and her colleagues, including Masaru Kuno, professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, will exploit a new technology to tackle the complex folding mechanisms of autotransporter proteins, which are proteins with properties that help them cross bacterial membrane systems. Autotransporter proteins contribute to infections from bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella.
“I am deeply grateful to the Keck Foundation for their support of highly innovative, paradigm-breaking research projects,” Clark said. “This high level of innovation is necessary to break through the technical barriers that constrain our current understanding of protein folding.”
Proteins are long chains of amino acids that fold into specific three-dimensional structures, giving them their active shapes and determining their interactions with other molecules in the cell. Protein folding has been studied in test tubes for more than 70 years, but the folding process is different inside cells. In the cell, proteins fold from one end to the other as they are synthesized or transported across a membrane. Currently, there is no way to replicate this “vectorial” folding mechanism in the test tube.