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Summer Thyme: Protein Design for Gene Therapy

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Recommended by: David Baker, University of Washington

Redesigning proteins is a tricky business, especially when the computer software used to design and predict the structure of proteins isn't perfect. In David Baker's lab at the University of Washington, Summer Thyme uses Rosetta to redesign protein structures and functions. "The particular project I work on is to redesign protein-DNA interactions," she says. "There's a class of protein that cuts up DNA, and we're trying to change where they cut up DNA." The overall goal, she adds, is to create gene therapies. "If you make a double-stranded break, the idea is that then the cell's repair machinery will take over and you can correct that break, and you can also change out mutations," Thyme says.

But there are a few challenges when it comes to protein design — namely, making sure that what can be done theoretically actually works out in reality, and can be tested experimentally. "You can get lost in computer work, so you have to make sure you integrate the two well," Thyme says. And there's also the problem that "computational protein design doesn't work that well yet," she adds.

And the Nobel goes to…

If she could design "little molecular machines that can go in and change your cells in whatever way we need to be able to, to correct disease or reverse aging," Thyme would be pleased to win the Nobel. "If we could do that through design, and engineering of proteins, that would be pretty fantastic," she says.

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