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C. The Protein Folding Process: Something to 'FRET' About?

Narrator: This is Science Today. Illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease and even some cancers are a result of a protein folding process gone awry. These proteins are too small to view using a microscope, so to observe the process, scientists have long used a method called Forster Resonance Energy Transfer, or FRET. Physicist Everett Lipman, of the University of California, Santa Barbara, used FRET, along with their own innovation, to gain better insight into how proteins fold.

Lipman: The thing that we did for the first time - we used this microfluidic device. It's a set of channels that have been etched into a little silicon chip and then a piece of glass is bonded on the top. By using that little device, we were able to watch the protein at different times after the folding was started.

Narrator: Previous experiments could only observe molecules at random times.

Lipman: In this mixing device, we mix solutions together at one end of a big long channel and that starts the folding reaction. And then as we look at different places down the channel, we're looking at the proteins at different times after the folding reaction began and so we've been able to do a much more controlled experiment that way.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.