The science for understanding the complex spontaneous assembly of proteins. Proteins
are long chains of amino acids
. These chains are very flexible and can take on a large number of different shapes (just as a piece of string can be coiled and knotted in many different ways). With proteins, however, only one specific structure is right. This is called the fold, or native state
. How a protein arrives at this native state without spending an eternity in the nearly infinite number of wrong folds is subject of intense study (this problem is sometimes referred to as Levinthal's Paradox
. This field is called protein folding.
One way of studying protein folding is by studying how a protein unfolds! Proteins are subjected to chemical stress or high heat, causing them to fall apart. This reverse process is studied with various techniques to understand how a protein starts from a disrupted state and finds its home.
This is eventually important to things like the Human Genome Project where it would be advantageous to predict a protein's structure based on its sequence. This is a potentially huge frontier in structural biology. Various computational and bioinformatic database techniques are being applied to solve this problem in silico.