MSc reseacher Diane Farrugia developed a way to renature the protein superoxide dismutase, which is rather like unboilingan egg.MSc reseacher Diane Farrugia developed a way to renature the protein superoxide dismutase, which is rather like unboilingan egg.

Why do eggs solidify when you cook them? The answer is in the proteins.

Most proteins in cells (including egg cells and our own body cells) are soluble enzymes which carry out the chemical reactions that define life itself. They require a very narrow range of physical conditions in order to maintain the complicated three-dimensional structure they need, and our own body temperature of 37˚C is just right for our own enzymes. If you heat them however, the proteins unfold, or denature, and become inactive.

Research conducted recently by Diane Farrugia in the Laboratory of Biochemistry and Protein Science in the University of Malta’s Department of Physiology and Biochemistry, under the supervision of Prof. Gary Hunter, involved the deliberate denaturation of a very important protein – superoxide dismutase, which protects us against the toxic effects of oxygen and is a tumour suppressor protein.

Denaturation techniques were used to replace a core component, an atom of iron, with another metal to find out more about the enzyme. Ms Farrugia developed a way to renature the protein again, rather like unboiling an egg.

Studies were carried out at the University of Malta, the Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology, University of Leeds, the UK, and at the Diamond Light Source Ltd, UK, a powerful synchrotron which provides electromagnetic radiation at various wavelengths for a number of experimental research scientists simultaneously.

This is part of a project to obtain further knowledge about how this important enzyme functions, which is essential to provide insight on how these superoxide dismutases interact in the living organism. These findings are important for protein engineering and drug design in pharmaceuticals.

Ms Farrugia was awarded a Masters of Science in Biochemistry from the University of Malta last year and her research was partially funded by the Strategic Educational Pathways Scholarship, which is part-financed by the EU’s European Social Fund under Operational Programme II – Cohesion Policy 2007-2013, Empowering People for More Jobs and a Better Quality Of Life.

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