Proteins are large molecules that have complex three-dimensional (3D) structures that give them sophisticated cellular functions. To provide access to complex protein structures not found in nature, Professors Baker and King of the University of Washington and Professor Yeates of University of California Los Angeles collaborate to compute and precisely control the assembly of proteins into 3D architectures. The research team shares these capabilities with the engineering and scientific communities and constructs a Designed Protein Nanomaterial (DPN) database to enable others to rapidly build on these advances. The long-term goal is to allow predictable design of protein-based materials for use in a wide range of applications such as targeted drug delivery, functional materials for energy conversion, and other chemical technologies. The interdisciplinary project provides excellent research training opportunities to postdoctoral researchers and students.
This research integrates theory, computation and experiment to close the design cycle on creation of new protein-based nanomaterials that are not currently accessible using conventional protein engineering approaches. It develops strategies to prepare more robust and complex protein nanomaterials from modular building blocks, whose 3D assembly and disassembly can occur in response to changes in environmental conditions. The research team recruits citizen scientists to solve complex protein design problems using Foldit, and to provide innovative input to enhance functionalization of such materials.