Starting in 2002, a team of MSU scientists worked to uncover the secrets behind a key iron-containing enzyme. In February 2010, they finally succeeded.
The laboratories of Robert Hausinger, an MSU microbiology and molecular genetics professor, and Denis Proshlyakov of MSU’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology developed a new method of slowing down enzymes and analyzed the steps in the reaction process of the bacterial enzyme Taurine/alpha-ketoglutarate dioxygenase, or TauD. This discovery could help researchers develop new medicines or help clean the environment, Proshlyakov said.
“We would be able to create inhibitors or specific drugs that work with these types of enzymes better than current drugs, or grow certain bacteria that fight pollution by detoxifying the environment,” Proshlyakov said.
The MSU team was interested in understanding how TauD works because it serves as a model for many other proteins in the human body and in the environment.
“That particular protein is a very good model for several important proteins in human enzymes,” Proshlyakov said. “In order to fix problems or in order to help eliminate environmental concerns, we need to understand how this works.”
To better understand how TauD worked, the scientists devised a cooling method that slowed down the enzyme reaction enough so they could observe individual sequences.
“We know that in chemistry, biologically, when we cool down the reaction, it goes slower,” Proshlyakov said. “We cooled down our reaction 100 to 1,000 times below room temperature. We are using a technique that also allows us to look at the inner workings of the protein. Using a low temperature also helps us to do that.”
By slowing down the enzyme’s reaction, Hausinger said the scientists discovered previously unknown steps because the process occurs quickly.
“We’re trying to understand the steps that the enzyme takes,” Hausinger said. “You have to observe the sample properly, see the intermediates.”
Hausinger said TauD was an ideal enzyme because it is related to numerous other major proteins, and can even relate to students’ everyday lives.
“For students that are drinking Red Bull, the enzyme is involved in the decomposition of taurine, a main ingredient in the drink,” Hausinger said.
Walter Esselman, chairman of the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, said Hausinger and Proshlyakov’s research is a fundamental study of enzymes.
“This is very important in understanding the production of energy in cells as well as how to enhance bio energy,” Esselman said.
For now, Hausinger hopes to expand his research and apply it to other scientific fields.
“We’ve done studies with other enzymes,” Hausinger said. “Whatever we learn about we can expand it and apply to other enzymes, particularly those that are very important from a medical standpoint.”
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