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Imagine That! -- "Protein Control"

Imagine That!
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Imagine That! -- "Protein Control"

Credit: NSF/Finger Lakes Productions International

Audio Transcript:

Protein control doesn't just mean limiting your meat intake. Now, the proteins in your cells can be controlled, too.

Imagine that!

Within each living cell, proteins perform all the molecular tasks. The cell, in turn, switches these proteins on or off. Now, scientists have devised a way to control cellular proteins externally at the nanoscale level. Attaching a miniature spring to a protein's surface controls its shape -- and therefore, its function. These springs are made of short pieces of DNA. When the stiffness of the DNA spring is changed, the attached protein changes shape and switches on or off. Giovanni Zocchi, an assistant professor of physics at UCLA, leads the research effort.

Zocchi: "This way that we have of externally controlling a protein will help us, we think, understand much better the mechanism by which proteins work. This control mechanism is one of the very fundamental principles of life at the molecular scale."

(SOUND: boing-boing of springs)

These "spring-loaded" proteins could be used as molecular probes to study individual cells. And, since many drugs are enzymes, which are proteins, another result might be a new generation of targeted, smart pharmaceuticals that can be activated only in certain cells -- like cancer cells. I'm Eric Phillips.

"Imagine That!" covers projects funded by the U.S. government's National Science Foundation. Federally-sponsored research -- brought to you by you! Learn more at

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