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Toronto researchers help international team generate 1,000 protein structures


Toronto, ON – Researchers from the University of Toronto are part of an international coalition that recently generated their 1,000th protein structure using X-ray crystallography.

The U of T team has been working in collaboration with researchers at the Midwest Center for Structural Genomics (MCSG), an international consortium led by Dr Andrzej Joachimiak at the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory in Argonne, Illinois. For nearly a decade, the MCSG team has been using its technologies to elucidate how microbes interact with humans and the environment, patiently shining the light on the structures of important proteins. Using X-ray crystallography, researchers are able to sketch an image of a protein’s atomic structure – laying the basis for further studies and treatments by scientists all around the world.

“The MCSG alone has contributed an astonishing one sixth of the global output of new structural information for microbial proteins over the past decade,” said Aled Edwards, professor at the Banting and Best Department of Medical Research and the director of the Structural Genomics Consortium, a similar project that focuses on human proteins.

Garnering over $15 million in funding from the US National Institutes of Health over the past decade, the Canadian component of the MCSG was involved in solving approximately 400 of the MCSG structures. The Canadian team of 20 scientists, led by Professors Alexei Savchenko and Alexander Yakunin of the Banting and Best Department of Medical Research, have focused their research on an array of proteins that regulate how bacteria respond to their environment, that allow bacteria to acquire resistance to viral infection, that allow the bacteria to take over control of human cells and that transport essential metals across cell membranes.

Professors Savchenko and Yakunin will now apply their technologies to environmental problems. They are founding members of BioZone, a new centre for bioengineering that will be housed in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry. A major focus for the centre will be on utilizing microbial proteins -specifically enzymes – for the remediation of soil, water, and air as well as the creation of renewable bioproducts. The aim is to ensure a healthy and sustainable environment. BioZone recently received over $2.5-million in support from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and $5-million from Genome Canada and the Ontario Genomics Institute.