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Deadly Molecules in Motion

To some, this may look like a disco ball. But to one Duke team, it represents the elusive dance of a shape-shifting protein, SpA , which helps the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus evade its host’s defenses. Collaborators in the departments of biochemistry and computer science have come up with a new way to compute and visualize the 3-D structure of flexible cell proteins such as SpA as they twist, rotate and vibrate. While previous models of protein motion used “snapshots” of a protein’s rapidly-changing structure, like frames in a movie, this new approach captures the smooth transitions between states. Their work could bring us closer to a therapy to prevent MRSA infections.