MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- This South Florida resort is the worldcapital of protein engineering this week, as upward of 700microbiologists, biophysicists, chemists and crystallographersconverge for the 25th Annual Winter Symposium. The theme ofthe conference, co-sponsored by Bio/Technology magazine, isprotein engineering.

Opening the event on Monday, William J. Whelan, conferenceco-director and president of the University of Miami'sBiochemistry and Molecular Biology Foundation Inc., announcedthat after a decade or more devoted to biotechnology, thesymposium would henceforth alternate between proteinengineering and "the molecular biology of human disease."

He noted that for the first time in the meeting's history, U.S.scientists were in a minority on the panel of invited speakers-- 16 to 28 -- "with large contingents from the United Kingdomand from Moscow."

Whelan also reported with regret that "for the second year, thebiotechnology center nearest to Miami has had its would-beparticipants denied entry visas by the U.S. State Department."Immunologist Jorge V. Gavilondo Cowley, who holds dual U.S.-Cuban citizenship, was the only Cuban allowed to bring hispapers to the conference.

Gregory A. Petsko, chairman of the first session, told hisaudience that this year's event, focused on protein engineering,follows the second such gathering in Japan in the mid-1980s.The first was at Oxford University. "That first meeting focusedon techniques, such as making mutants, and high-levelexpression of foreign proteins," said Petsko, a biochemist atBrandeis University in Waltham, Mass. "The second (focusedon) on making proteins more stable. This one here in Miami ...goes beyond the first two to cover such topics as using proteinengineering to solve very specific biological or biochemicalproblems."

The means that the participants here "come to us not as proteinengineers, but as cell biologists, pharmacologist, proteinbiophysicists -- who are using the science of proteinengineering as a vehicle to address very precise problems," hesaid.

"We may be well on our way toward protein engineeringcovering molecular biology, no longer as a discipline in its ownright, but something that everybody who is doing cutting-edgescience at the interface of disciplines must use in the course ofday-to-day experience," Petsko concluded.

One example of structure modified to serve function in treatingdisease was a poster from a research team in the division ofstructural analysis presented by Gavilondo, head of the Cubancenter's division of immunotechnology and diagnostics.

Titled "Design and Synthesis of a Peptide with AntiviralActivity In Vitro," it reported modifying the structure ofinterferon to enhance its virus-inhibiting properties.

Knowing the crystal structure of recombinant murine IFN-beta,solved recently in Japan, the Cuban group took a sequence fromthe AB loop of IFN-alpha2b and added genes for 11 moreamino acids to the N- and C-terminal ends. They thenbioassayed the resulting synthetic peptide on human hepatitiscells challenged with Mengo virus.

"The peptide showed protective effect (1 microgram wasequivalent to 100 international units (IU) of IFN-alpha2b),"said Gavilondo. "This effect was neutralized by antibodiesagainst the native interferon, but not by anti-gamma IFNreceptor antibodies.

-- David N. Leff Science Editor

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.

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