Liquid protein challenges importance of water

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Water, water everywhere – but at least one protein can function without the wet stuff.

Adam Perriman at the University of Bristol, UK, and colleagues swapped the coating of water on myoglobin proteins – which normally carry oxygen to muscle and give raw meat its red colour – with a synthetic polymer that acts as a surfactant, effectively turning the proteins into a viscous liquid with the consistency of thick treacle.

Then they used a neutron-scattering technique to observe how well the proteins could move, a measure of their proper functioning. They found that the protein-polymer hybrids moved as well as proteins in water, remaining flexible and exhibiting the usual internal dynamics. Importantly, they could still bind oxygen as well as myoglobin does in living tissue.

The finding overturns the dogma that water is the most important biological molecule. “There are ways to replace water with something else and still keep proteins happy,” says Martin Weik of the Institute for Structural Biology in Grenoble, France, a co-author on the work.

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