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Project Violet Exploration: The Research: Shorter Version

Come investigate the many elements of Project Violet!

The Science Behind Project Violet

Project Violet combines many different areas of science. In this section we describe some of the main ideas behind Project Violet. If you get stuck on any of the science terms, please check out our 'Glossary' section.

1. Introduction

Project Violet is making medicines from nature. Scientists often refer to many medicines as "drugs"; they call the process of researching and developing new medicines, "drug discovery". (We will use the term "drug" in replacement of "medicines" in this site, as is done in the scientific community.)

2. Proteins

  • Proteins are biological molecules

  • Proteins are sequences of amino acids


  • Proteins are "encoded" by DNA
    • DNA sequence determines protein sequence
    • DNA is like blueprints for proteins


  • Proteins are really important. Some examples:
    • Moving muscles
    • Carrying oxygen in the blood
    • Cell structure
    • Chemical reactions
    • Hair, fingernails, silk, antlers, etc.



  • Proteins "fold" into 3D structures
    • Sequence determines shape


  • Protein function is determined by sequence and shape

3. Knottins

  • Knottins are small, "knotted" proteins.


  • Knottins can make great medicines because nature needs them too
    • They are tough
    • They go places
      • Into the brain from the blood
      • Into the blood from the gut
      • Inside cells
    • They can mess with proteins


  • What organisms make knottins?
    • Poisonous animals: scorpions, spiders, cone snails, etc.

    • Plants: potato, sunflower, oubli, etc.

    • Bacteria

    • Viruses

    • Us - Humans

4. Making Medicines

While knottins are "natural" medicines, they did not evolve to treat human disease. Project Violet changes parts of the known knottins in order to try to create medicines out of them.

  • Changing knottins: adding to them
    • Add a molecular flashlight
    • Add a "warhead" to kill cancer cells
    • Add a radiosensitizer that targets radiation to cancer


  • Changing knottins: the sequence
    • Sequence determines function
      •   Sticking to proteins, getting into the brain, being tough, etc.
    • Change the protein sequence by changing the DNA
    • There are 20 different amino acids, so
      • If you change 1 position in the protein sequence there are 20 possibilities
      • If you change 5 positions in the protein sequence there are 3,000,000 possibilities
      • If you change 20 positions in the protein sequence there are more possibilities than there are stars in the universe!



  • Examples of what these "changed" knottins may be able to do:
    • Prevent cancer from spreading (such as breast cancer, skin cancer)
      • Inject the cancer site with a knottin that has a warhead on it; the knottin follow lymph channels and sticks to cancer cells.
    • Make it easier for a surgeon to determine healthy tissue from cancerous tissue when removing a tumor
      • Attach a 'flashlight' to a knottin molecule. The knottin molecule only binds to cancer cells, so only the cancer cells will light up (particularly in the brain).