UT Arlington researchers have been awarded a $300,000 National Science Foundation grant to study a new model for how motor proteins behave in the body.
Their study could radically change the face of biology by explaining how proteins move and interact with other biological systems, said Jean-Pierre Bardet, dean of the UT Arlington College of Engineering.
"If proven, their study could radically change the face of engineering and science at the nano scale and our understanding of the dynamics and movement of very small objects in a fluid environment," Bardet said.
Alan Bowling, an assistant professor in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department, is the lead investigator. Samarendra Mohanty, assistant professor of physics, and Subhrangsu Mandal, an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, are co-principal investigators in the project.
The NSF award is funded through the Early Concept Grants for Exploratory Research, or EAGER program. The grants are used to support exploratory work in its early stages on untested, but potentially transformative, research ideas or approaches.
Bowling contends that mass and acceleration make a difference at the nano level. The most widely accepted thinking and teaching omits mass and acceleration from the model, making it possible to violate Newton's second law, which states that force equals mass times acceleration.
"We think you have to account for that law," Bowling said. "We believe it makes a difference in whatever predictions you are using the model to obtain concerning the protein's behavior."
Bowling said the challenge in modeling such protein behavior at the nano level is that doing so lengthens the computer simulation time needed to perform the necessary calculations. Several modeling approaches result in computer simulations that can take several days or weeks to obtain the required data. Bowling said that his new modeling approach satisfies Newton's second law without sacrificing accuracy while keeping the computer simulation time down to several minutes.
Bowling describes motor proteins as nature's engine.
"They are the nano-sized chains of molecules in our body that convert chemicals obtained from the food we eat into mechanical work, in other words, movement," he said.
Thousands of motor proteins in human muscles perform ratcheting movements, where they alternately lock and dock into, then release muscle fibers that combine to produce muscle contractions.