Friday, October 22, 2010

Male frog protein whips up a broth

For the biophysics class BIPH3001 students are required to select one recent scientific paper of interest to them and give a presentation to the class. This week one student, Heather Nutt, selected a 2009 Biophysical Journal paper, 
Ranaspumin-2: Structure and Function of a Surfactant Protein from the Foam Nests of a Tropical Frog
Her slides are here.
At first I thought this topic was a little obscure but it turns out to be fascinating. Below I highlight some of the things I found particularly interesting from the paper abstract. 
Ranaspumin-2 (Rsn-2) is a monomeric, 11 kDa surfactant protein identified as one of the major foam nest components of the tĂșngara frog (Engystomops pustulosus), with an amino acid sequence unlike any other protein described so far. We report here on its structure in solution as determined by high-resolution NMR analysis, together with investigations of its conformation and packing at the air-water interface using a combination of infrared and neutron reflectivity techniques. Despite the lack of any significant sequence similarity, Rsn-2 in solution adopts a compact globular fold characteristic of the cystatin family, comprising a single helix over a four-stranded sheet, in a motif not previously associated with surfactant activity. The NMR structure of Rsn-2 shows no obvious amphiphilicity that might be anticipated for a surfactant protein. This suggests that it must undergo a significant conformational change when incorporated into the air-water interface that may involve a hinge-bending, clamshell opening of the separate helix and sheet segments to expose hydrophobic faces to air while maintaining the highly polar surfaces in contact with the underlying water layer. This model is supported by direct observation of the relative orientations of secondary structure elements at the interface by infrared reflection absorption spectroscopy, and by protein packing densities determined from neutron reflectivity profiles.

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