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Structure. 2009 Sep 9;17(9):1244-52. doi: 10.1016/j.str.2009.07.012.

Probing the "dark matter" of protein fold space.

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  • 1Division of Mathematical Biology, MRC National Institute for Medical Research, The Ridgeway, London, UK.


We used a protein structure prediction method to generate a variety of folds as alpha-carbon models with realistic secondary structures and good hydrophobic packing. The prediction method used only idealized constructs that are not based on known protein structures or fragments of them, producing an unbiased distribution. Model and native fold comparison used a topology-based method as superposition can only be relied on in similar structures. When all the models were compared to a nonredundant set of all known structures, only one-in-ten were found to have a match. This large excess of novel folds was associated with each protein probe and if true in general, implies that the space of possible folds is larger than the space of realized folds, in much the same way that sequence-space is larger than fold-space. The large excess of novel folds exhibited no unusual properties and has been likened to cosmological dark matter.

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