Importance of knowing tertiary structure

David Jones jones at
Thu Jul 10 14:16:37 EST 1997

Christian Barrett <cbarrett at> wrote:
> With this post I would like to generate a response from the community
> about the impact of a successful computational method for determining
> protein tertiary structure.  I am interested in the scope of its 
> application; in how many (and which) different academic/industrial 
> research areas would it have a profound effect?  And, what would this 
> effect be?  Put another way, how would the world be changed?

> Do you know of any reviews that address this question?

Why do you highlight "computational methods" for determining protein
tertiary structure? You can answer your question by asking X-ray
crystallographers or NMR spectroscopists what they hope to achieve
by determining protein structures. All a _successful_ computational
method would add to that would be the fact that the structure could
be calculated quickly and without actually having to purify a
tubeful of the protein in question. The world would be no more
changed by someone solving the protein problem than it would by
someone developing a completely automated NMR technique that can
determine a protein's structure in 5 minutes.

Think of it this way. If we didn't understand the genetic code
which allows us to translate DNA/RNA sequences into protein
sequences, we could work out what protein a gene codes for by
getting an organism to express the gene in question, purifying
the protein product and then sequencing the protein using
chemical methods. This process would work fine, but it would
take a lot of effort and take perhaps 6-12 months to process one
gene. Knowing the genetic code allows anyone with a PC to
translate nucleic acid sequences into protein sequences in a few
fractions of a second - and we can now of course work on the
entire genomes of bacteria and yeast knowing the sequence of
more or less every protein it codes for.

If we ever understand the protein folding code, the world would be
changed as much or as little as it was when the genetic code was

This message was written, produced and executively directed by Dr David Jones
Address: Dept. of Biological       |   Email: jones at
Sciences, University of Warwick,   |     Tel: +44 1203 523729
Coventry CV4 7AL, U.K.             |     Fax: +44 1203 523701

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