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Proteins. 2015 May;83(5):797-8. doi: 10.1002/prot.24765. Epub 2015 Feb 10.

Conformational and connotational heterogeneity: a surprising relationship between protein structural flexibility and puns.

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Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences and California Institute for Quantitative Biology, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, 94158, USA.


Protein structures are often thought of as static objects, and indeed, the bulk of a protein's sequence forms α-helices, β-sheets, and other generally well-ordered substructures. These portions of the molecule pre-pay the entropic price of maintaining a globally unique fold, freeing other regions to adopt multiple alternative conformations. In many cases, this localized flexibility is biologically interesting: it may be important for catalytic turnover or for conformational selection before forming an intermolecular complex, for example. Similarly, most of written language is carefully tuned to avoid ambiguity and convey a singular meaning, a cohesive message. This linguistic scaffolding in some sense pre-pays a rhetorical price, paving the way for punctuated instances in which a given word or phrase can simultaneously adopt multiple alternative connotations-in other words, for puns.


evolution; language; protein dynamics; protein structure; rigidity

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