New proteins created by Kiwi scientists have been dubbed “a huge step forward” that could help combat everything from disease to climate change.

Researchers at Victoria University’s Ferrier Research Institute have made a breakthrough with a new approach to protein engineering.

Using their method, which is inspired by natural evolution, they have combined different parts of natural proteins to form new ones.

“Successfully combining different parts of natural proteins to create new, fully functioning proteins is something that has never been done before,” said Ferrier’s Dr Effie Fan, who has been leading the work with Professor Emily Parker, and other researchers from the Maurice Wilkins Centre.

“By using fully functioning parts of a natural protein as a starting point, we can make the process of protein engineering much faster and more effective.

“This is a huge step forward for protein engineering.”

The research had implications for everything from vaccines to crop growth.

“Everything in nature, from humans to bacteria, is made of proteins, and through evolution proteins can change in a certain way to solve certain problems – like making people immune to a disease,” Fan explained.

“But evolution is a slow process, and there are some problems – like cancer, viral epidemics, and climate change – that we don’t have time for nature to solve on its own.

“The goal of our field of science is to manipulate proteins in the lab to solve these problems soon.”

Fan and Parker’s research also had specific implications for antibiotic development.

The team used proteins that were part of the bacteria that cause tuberculosis and gastric cancer in their research.

“Now that we can manipulate the proteins in these bacteria, we know more about how the proteins work and how they help the bacteria cause disease.

“We can use this knowledge to help create antibiotics to help fight these diseases, many of which are currently resistant to modern antibiotics.”

The proteins found in these specific bacteria are also found in many other living organisms.

Because the proteins were so common, the techniques developed by the team could also be used to manipulate proteins in other ways to help with other global problems.

The research was recently published in the major scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

It came soon after the opening of a new lab at the institute being run by Parker, which aims to aid research around antimicrobial resistance and engineering new biological solutions to challenges now facing animal and human health.

Source: NZ Herald

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