Protein structures on demand
Humans are composed of building blocks known as proteins. Proteins begin as chains of amino acids and then fold into a specific shape that determines the function of that protein. To determine that shape, scientists currently use x-ray crystallography (time-consuming) or NMR Spectroscopy (labour-inducing). Dr. Ming Li is working towards a very fast and accurate method of solving protein structures - one that will work with experimental data.
Currently, it takes several months to work out 1 protein structure using NMR experiments. Dr. Li and his team are working on an automatic system that would use 1 day to do the work, using massive parallel computers. Currently they have achieved this with 4 small proteins with high resolution.
Bioinformatics has personal significance to Dr. Li, whose wife passed away from breast cancer in 2010. His loss further inspires him in his field. The Her-2 positive cancer is characterized by over-expression of the Her-2 protein on the cancer cell surface.