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Scientists Create Protein Models to Explore Toxic Methylmercury Formation


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A structural model of  HgcA, in cyan, and HgcB, in purple.

A team led by the U.S. Department of Energys Oak Ridge National Laboratory created a computational model of the proteins responsible for the transformation of mercury into toxic methylmercury,

Credit: Connor Cooper/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have developed a computational model of the proteins responsible for the transformation of mercury to toxic methylmercury by microorganisms.

The proteins HgcA and HgcB have been difficult to characterize experimentally because they are highly sensitive to oxygen, and are barely detectable by conventional methods.

Said ORNL's Jerry Parks, "We don't have an experimental structure yet for these proteins, so the next best thing is to use computational techniques to predict their structure. ...This technique allows us to begin characterizing these complex, mysterious biological systems."

The researchers used a large dataset of HgcA and HgcB protein sequences from different microorganisms to create a three-dimensional structural model of the HgcAB protein complex and its cofactors. The model can be used to develop new hypotheses about the biochemical mechanism of mercury methylation and test them experimentally.

From Oak Ridge National Laboratory
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Abstracts Copyright © 2020 SmithBucklin, Washington, DC, USA


 

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