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New interdisciplinary research to study protein scaffolds for biotechnology

Posted on 12 March 2020

Steve Johnson is co-investigator on a new BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council) Tools and Technology grant.

The highly interdisciplinary project, awarded to Dr Michael Plevin (Deptment of Biology, University of York), aims to investigate the use of artificially engineered scaffold proteins for a broad range of applications across bioscience and biotechnology. Dr Johnson (Department of Electonic Engineering, University of York) will lead research into the use of a novel protein scaffold, known as SHIRT proteins, as artificially engineered alternatives to antibodies for use in protein diagnostic technologies.

Protein biosensors typically use surface-immobilised antibodies for the detection of specific target proteins that are markers of infection or disease. However, biosensors that utilise antibodies currently have three major drawbacks, antibody orientation, low stability and low reusability. In contrast, the robust nature of SHIRT proteins means they can be easily attached to a biosensor surface without disrupting the protein. The SHIRT protein’s robustness also allows for higher stability, meaning the sensors can be washed more aggressively, increasing their reusability. Alongside this, the protein can be easily engineered and functionalised to allow specific binding to target molecules, mimicking the functionality of antibodies. Through fundamental studies of the properties and function of these SHIRT proteins, this project will assess their suitability for use in the next generation of protein diagnostic technology.