## Protein folding

### Problem 300

Published on Saturday, 4th September 2010, 01:00 pm; Solved by 634In a very simplified form, we can consider proteins as strings consisting of hydrophobic (H) and polar (P) elements, e.g. HHPPHHHPHHPH.

For this problem, the orientation of a protein is important; e.g. HPP is considered distinct from PPH. Thus, there are 2^{n} distinct proteins consisting of `n` elements.

When one encounters these strings in nature, they are always folded in such a way that the number of H-H contact points is as large as possible, since this is energetically advantageous.

As a result, the H-elements tend to accumulate in the inner part, with the P-elements on the outside.

Natural proteins are folded in three dimensions of course, but we will only consider protein folding in __two dimensions__.

The figure below shows two possible ways that our example protein could be folded (H-H contact points are shown with red dots).

The folding on the left has only six H-H contact points, thus it would never occur naturally.

On the other hand, the folding on the right has nine H-H contact points, which is optimal for this string.

Assuming that H and P elements are equally likely to occur in any position along the string, the average number of H-H contact points in an optimal folding of a random protein string of length 8 turns out to be 850 / 2^{8}=3.3203125.

What is the average number of H-H contact points in an optimal folding of a random protein string of length 15?

Give your answer using as many decimal places as necessary for an exact result.