Molecular Mechanics: Protein Wizard

Grasping and tugging molecules, Carlos Bustamante has mastered the esoteric art of teasing life into giving up its tiniest secrets

A living cell bustles with molecular activity. Lilliputian protein motors ferry goods and services. Enzymes curl and unfurl. Even on its calmest days, the DNA double-helix twists, unwinds and wiggles like a loopy spring.

Breaking this molecular hullabaloo into its elemental physical forces is Carlos Bustamante's specialty. Bustamante, 50, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at the University of California, Berkeley, came to the U.S. from Peru 26 years ago as a Fulbright scholar. In the early 1990s, while at the University of Oregon, he and his colleagues tacked one end of a DNA molecule to a magnetic bead and measured...

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