Like a Transformer? Protein Unfolds and Refolds for New Function

July 23, 2012
Irina Artsimovitch

New research has shown that a protein does something that scientists once thought impossible: It unfolds itself and refolds into a completely new shape.

This protein, called RfaH, activates genes that allow bacterial cells to launch a successful attack on their host, causing disease. The researchers determined that RfaH starts out in its alpha form, composed of two spiral shapes. Later, in its beta form, it resembles spokes on a wheel and is called a barrel.

“We showed that RfaH refolds, which is a big enough deal already. You would think this is impossible. That’s what you’re told in school,” said Irina Artsimovitch, professor of microbiology at Ohio State University and a lead author of the study. “But in this case, it’s even better than that because we show that when RfaH refolds, it acquires a new function. It can do something that it couldn’t do before.”

Complete Research article