During the last two decades it has become clear that the shapes and structures of proteins are not static - these molecules "breathe" and their structures fluctuate. These motions are not only interesting by themselves, but also important for the many functions of proteins. This project focuses on the hydrophobic core, which is the part of the protein that is hidden away from water. To get a detailed picture of motions inside the core, selected hydrogen atoms will be changed to deuterons, which have identical chemical properties but different magnetic ones. Nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy will then be used to follow the motions at the selected sites. The investigation will probe the dependence of the motions on temperature and amount of water around the protein molecule to reveal the characteristics of the potential energy. By focusing on quantitative investigations of fluctuations in the core region of proteins, this project will contribute toward elucidation of physical factors that govern protein dynamics.
This project has the broader purpose of exposing undergraduate students at the University of Alaska at Anchorage, which is a predominantly undergraduate institution, to state-of-the-art instrumentation that is not available to them in the Anchorage area. The interdisciplinary nature of the work, spanning chemistry, biology, physics, mathematics, and computer science, allows for the appreciation of multiple approaches to solving contemporary scientific problems, as well as for the incorporation of students from various disciplines into the project The University of Alaska has a large percentage of students from underrepresented groups, such as Alaska Natives, and special effort will be made to attract this group of students through an already established connection with the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program.