Documenting the Coming Singularity

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Accelerated Evolution: Creating New Proteins

Researchers at Biodesign Institute have revved the engine of biological evolution to unheard of speed, creating completely new proteins in an infinitesimal fraction of the time it took nature to do the same thing.
Nature, through the trial and error of evolution, has discovered a vast diversity of life from what can only presumed to have been a primordial pool of building blocks. Inspired by this success, a new Biodesign Institute research team, led by John Chaput, is now trying to mimic the process of Darwinian evolution in the laboratory by evolving new proteins from scratch. Using new tricks of molecular biology, Chaput and co-workers have evolved several new proteins in a fraction of the 3 billion years it took nature.

Their most recent results, published in the May 23rd edition of the journal PLoS ONE, have led to some surprisingly new lessons on how to optimize proteins which have never existed in nature before, in a process they call ‘synthetic evolution.’
Pictured here: The 3-D structure (ribbon diagram) of protein DX (gray) superimposed with the parent sequence, protein 18-19 (gold). The zinc metal ion is shown in orange and the ATP ligand is colored by atom type. (Image: John Chaput, Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University.)
The results have helped provide a new understanding of how subtle amino acid changes contribute to the protein folding and stability. Chaput’s team has developed the technology potential to take any of nature’s proteins and further improve its stability and function. "We have the distinct advantage over nature of being able to freeze the evolution of our lab-evolved proteins at different time points to begin to tease apart this random process and relate it to the final protein function," said Chaput.

Next, Chaput plans on further expanding his efforts to evolve proteins with new therapeutic features or catalytic functions.
Exciting things are happening on many fronts as we approach the singularity (≈ 2045). Stay tuned.

Source: Nanowerk

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