More designer peptides, more possibilities

Newswise Jan 09, 2019

The Science

With their tiny scaffolds of atoms, peptides hold the promise of creating catalysts for biofuels, capturing hazardous waste, and delivering new therapies to improve health. While nature offers a few peptides with the perfect characteristics for such purposes, scientists have been attempting to design peptides more precisely. The process has been one of slow trial-and-error. Now, a team of scientists has blended complex calculations with an award-winning ion analysis technology to design and test peptides rapidly.

The Impact

The approach expanded the number of “peptides of potential” from only a handful to more than 200. Thus, it vastly increased the variety of custom-designed biological materials for industrial and medical applications. The approach also provided a platform through which scientists can test additional peptides much more rapidly than before. Scientists can use the platform for other molecules as well.


Scientists from the University of Washington, Stanford University, and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) created a computational model that allowed them to simulate various types of peptides and identify which were stable enough for use as scaffolding for industrial and medical purposes. To evaluate the model’s calculations experimentally, the team then created the most promising peptides and analyzed them using Structures for Lossless Ion Manipulations (SLIM) at the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL), a Department of Energy Office of Science user facility. SLIM is a versatile, high-throughput, and ultra-high sensitivity and resolution ion analysis technology. It can identify similar molecules with different structures in a small amount of sample. A team of EMSL and PNNL scientists developed SLIM, which won a prestigious 2017 R&D 100 award, which honors the most impactful technologies of the year. Using SLIM, the team determined which designed peptides were stable enough for industrial and medical applications and how changes in amino acids, the building blocks of peptides, affected the potential use of the peptide. The approach allowed the scientists to accomplish the work in hours instead of days. The resulting comprehensive library of designed peptides will serve as a foundation for future efforts.

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