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Protein Eng. 1988 Apr;2(1):21-5.

Protein design for non-aqueous solvents.

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  • 1Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena 91125.


Improving protein stability in unnatural and suboptimal environments is a promising application of protein engineering technology. Carefully designed amino acid alterations may lead to dramatic positive effects on the stability of proteins under highly perturbing conditions, such as in non-aqueous solvents. Applications of biocatalysts and proteins with specific binding capabilities in the chemical industry have been severely limited by constraints placed on the solvent environment. With the advent of convenient methods for altering the amino acid composition and even synthesizing entirely new protein molecules, it is worthwhile to consider engineering proteins for stability in non-aqueous solvents. In order to identify the features that a protein would need for stability in organic media, we have been studying the structure and properties of the hydrophobic protein crambin. Crambin is unique in that it is soluble and stable in very high concentrations of polar organic solvents. Crambin and its water-soluble homologs offer a powerful demonstration of protein engineering for non-aqueous solvents. This paper describes the structural features that contribute to crambin's special properties. Based on these observations and consideration of how non-aqueous solvents affect the interactions important in protein folding, a set of rules for designing non-aqueous solvent-stable proteins is proposed.

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