PerspectiveBiomolecular Folding

Moments of excitement

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Science  08 Apr 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6282, pp. 150-151
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf6626

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Summary

At the atomic level, biomolecular dynamics, like war to its soldiers, consists of long periods of boredom interspersed by brief, intense moments of excitement. During the vast majority of its existence, a biomolecule flails about randomly, with large-amplitude motions when unfolded and with smaller-amplitude motions when folded. Rare transitions between these two states of often apparently aimless activity occur through a fleeting series of steps: a set of transition paths guided by the biomolecular energy landscape. On page 239 of this issue, Neupane et al. use single-molecule force spectroscopy to study the transition paths for folding a nucleic acid and for misfolding a prion protein (1). They are able to confirm some very basic aspects of biomolecular energy landscape theory.