Scientists looking into proteins at the University of Wisconsin (UW) have been granted US$17m, to fund a four-year research programme.

UW biochemists John Markley and George Phillips received the boost from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

It is hoped that their research project, which will focus on cataloging the three-dimensional structures of proteins, may enable scientists to find cures for diseases such as vCJD, the human equivalent of mad cow disease.

Markley told the Wisconsin Ag Connection: "The goal of our work is to design and improve methods for determining the structures of individual proteins and to extend our understanding of how each protein's structure relates to its function in nature."

The study will also benefit the agricultural sector by providing an improved understanding of plant biology. Information on proteins may help scientists discover why some plants are able to resist certain pests or weather conditions, or produce important compounds that can be used in medicine.