Creating better cellular factories

Novel, or recombinant, proteins have been used to develop groundbreaking medications for numerous conditions including diabetes, cancer, and hemophilia, but until now biomolecular engineers have faced a limitation. Cells typically require 20 amino acids to produce a protein. Engineers have been able to include only one, or perhaps a few, synthetic amino acids among them. This has limited the number of novel proteins scientists have been able to build.

Recently, a team of Yale researchers removed the translational machinery from E. coli bacterial cells whose genome was entirely recoded. The machinery translated the code for specific amino acids and their corresponding proteins. Removing it helped establish a free channel through which the cell can code new, synthetic amino acids. The research was published in November in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

“Now we can introduce dozens of new synthetic building blocks with user-defined precision to produce new compounds to improve drugs or functionalized polymers for new materials, [such as] biocompatible glue,” said Farren Isaacs, Ph.D., assistant professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology and senior author of the study.


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