What Are Proteins?
Proteins consist of chains of amino acids whose attractive
and repulsive forces have bent them into complicated three-dimensional
molecules. The intricate structures of proteins form the enzymes, cell linings,
receptors, organelles and other biological machinery that keep us alive.
Intrinsic to the operation of a protein is this three-dimensional structure. It
defines how the protein will interact with other molecules, both natural and
foreign. Determining the structure of a protein provides an invaluable piece of
the puzzle for creating new medications. For example, suppose that a hole in a
certain protein caused Alzheimer’s disease. If the three-dimensional structure
of the protein was known, a chemical could be developed that would bind to the
hole and solve the problem. This method has been very successful in the
development of new medications. The procedure for determining the
three-dimensional structure of proteins is called protein crystallography.