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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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.