To get a detailed look at how different proteins are folded, researchers freeze them in a crystalline structure and bombard them with extremely short bursts of x-rays. By recording how the x-rays bounce off the samples, scientists can reconstruct the different shapes—or conformations—that a protein can take. They then use a variety of techniques to determine how the proteins fold themselves into their final structures.
In a new study, researchers at Duke University have taken a different approach to studying the conformations of one of these larger proteins. By slowly pulling apart a protein called Protein S, they discovered a previously unknown stable conformation made possible by a little help from its best friend.