I've often said that, after the very successful half-century that researchers spent taking cells apart and studying the smallest parts, now is the time to put it back together again. A very encouraging step in this direction is reported in two papers in this week's edition of Nature. Researchers in Japan have managed to solve a protein structure by NMR while the protein in question was inside the living bacterium. In a separate paper, an overlapping group of people reports NMR measurements (but not yet the structure) of a protein inside a human cell. Both papers are discussed in an excellent News & Views commentary. While these studies are only the beginning of a whole new era for structural biology, they have already shown up interesting differences between the structures proteins adopt in the cell and those adopted in the test tube.
Protein structure determination in living cells by in-cell NMR spectroscopy p102
Daisuke Sakakibara, Atsuko Sasaki, Teppei Ikeya, Junpei Hamatsu, Tomomi Hanashima, Masaki Mishima, Masatoshi Yoshimasu, Nobuhiro Hayashi, Tsutomu Mikawa, Markus Wälchli, Brian O. Smith, Masahiro Shirakawa, Peter Güntert & Yutaka Ito
High-resolution multi-dimensional NMR spectroscopy of proteins in human cells p106
Kohsuke Inomata, Ayako Ohno, Hidehito Tochio, Shin Isogai, Takeshi Tenno, Ikuhiko Nakase, Toshihide Takeuchi, Shiroh Futaki, Yutaka Ito, Hidekazu Hiroaki & Masahiro Shirakawa