Exploring proteins at the atomic level This colorful image depicts pyruvate carboxylase, a complicated protein studied by Dr. Martin St. Maurice, assistant professor of biological sciences. “This is an important enzyme in our bodies that plays a role in insulin secretion and glucose biosynthesis and that also contributes to the synthesis of all kinds of building blocks for the cell,” St. Maurice explains. “As a result, this enzyme may be a target for the treatment of a number of diseases, including Type 2 diabetes, obesity and cancer.” St. Maurice uses an X-ray diffractometer to create three-dimensional maps of molecules — in this case, to determine the exact location of all atoms in this protein to gain insight into how it functions, including how one part moves as it catalyzes a chemical reaction. “By understanding how this region of the protein moves during a chemical reaction, we may
Dr. Martin St. Maurice
ultimately be able to alter the way the enzyme functions, leading to possible therapies directed against this enzyme,” he says.