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#TechTalk: Q&A with Vignesh Babu, Scientist II in Custom Protein Resources

How new technology at the Institute is helping move science forward – from protein biochemistry to drug development

06 June 2024

Babu operating BLI technology

What do you think people would find most interesting about your job and the technology you use?

Everything that a living cell performs for its sustenance comes down to the functions of proteins. Proteins act either as enzymes, transporters, signaling molecules, or structural components. Although some proteins function as stand-alone entities, most proteins function together with other biological molecules such as other proteins, nucleic acids, or cellular membrane components. Studying interactions between biological molecules provides insights into their mechanism of action.

In Custom Protein Resources, we provide the biochemistry tools and expertise needed for researchers to study these interactions outside the cell. It is important to study proteins in isolation to determine exactly how they interact with other molecules and the rate at which the interactions occur.

BLI technology

What exactly is the new BLI instrument?

Biolayer Interferometry (BLI) is a technique for analyzing the rate at which proteins interact with, or bind, their target molecules in real time. The technology involves special sensors called biosensors that are coated with a material that immobilizes the target biomolecules to be tested for their ability to bind the protein of interest.

How does it work?

The target protein is allowed to bind the immobilized biomolecules on the biosensor. Binding causes a change in the amount of reflected light in the biosensor, which is measured by a light detector. This allows us to perform real- time analysis of protein interactions.

What does BLI do differently than other instruments your team uses?

This new technology saves time and is also easier to maintain. BLI performs analysis on samples in a format that allows for rapid screening of binding partners or inhibitors to a target protein. Additionally, BLI is a label-free method so it does not require fluorescent or radioactive tags that can interfere with binding interactions.

What is the benefit of having this instrument at Stowers?

The BLI instrument is very simple to use even for beginners in bioanalytical techniques. As we encourage researchers to incorporate more biochemistry experiments into their research, this simple yet powerful, high throughput instrument provides a good option. Researchers at the Institute study multiple interactions between biomolecules such as protein-protein, protein–DNA, and antibody-antigen. BLI facilitates accurate quantitative measurements of such interactions and their binding properties in real time.

BLI instrument in operation

What are some of the most exciting discoveries achieved with this technology?

BLI technology has been available and constantly improving over the past 15 years. It is well established as a powerful bioanalytical tool in the scientific community with over 7,000 publications reporting the use of the technology in a range of applications from protein biochemistry to drug development. At the Stowers Institute, BLI is being used to study the properties of miniature antibodies called nanobodies, how very small proteins (peptides) interact with their targets, and other protein binding interactions.

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