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Home | Seminars and Symposia | Past seminars/symposia: Tuesday, November 16, 2004

DTC Science and Technology Innovators Lecture Series

How Proteins Solve Their Folding Problems


Ken A. Dill
Professor of Pharmaceutical Chemistry
Department of Biopharmaceutical Science
University of California, San Francisco

Tuesday, November 16, 2004
4:30 p.m. Reception
5:00 p.m. Seminar

402 Walter Library

Currently, trying to compute the 3-dimensional structure of a protein from its amino acid sequence is considered a grand challenge. A protein molecule is a polymer with a large number of conformations, so a computer would have to search an astronomical number of them to find the native structure. Yet, some proteins can fold up to their unique native structures in microseconds. Hence, proteins don't appear to regard folding as a "grand challenge." How do they fold so quickly? If we knew the answer, we could design fast computational methods for protein structure prediction. We have explored how proteins fold up, and how to use that information to make faster computer folding algorithms.


Ken Dill, who received his Ph.D. in Biology from the University of California, San Diego, has been interested in problems at the interface between statistical mechanics and biology, particularly in how protein molecules fold up, the properties of water, the conformations of chain molecules in micelles and lipid bilayers, and RNA folding. The Dill group was the first to develop simple physics-based models for studying the principles of protein folding thermodynamics and kinetics, leading to the view that protein folding: (a) involves funnel-shaped energy landscapes, and (b) is dominated by a binary hydrophobic/polar folding code. The Dill group also developed the "Mercedes-Benz" (MB) model of water, which shows how hydrogen bonding interactions give rise to the properties of water — its anomalies, phase diagram, and hydrophobic and ion solvation properties. Ken Dill has co-authored with Sarina Bromberg a physical chemistry textbook called Molecular Driving Forces, published by Garland Press.