New biological systems grown from man-made proteins

Princeton researchers have shown that biological systems need not solely follow the blueprint laid out by natural evolution, and that man-made proteins can work just as well in enabling the growth of living cells. In research that Drug Discovery & Development calls "a groundbreaking achievement," chemistry professor Michael Hecht and his team created what he calls, "molecular machines that function quite well within a living organism even though they were designed from scratch and expressed from artificial genes."

The work, explains Hecht, moves research forward in attempts to design and fabricate biological components and systems that do not already exist in nature. "Our work suggests," Hecht told DD&D, "that the construction of artificial genomes capable of sustaining cell life may be within reach."

The research, described in a report published online Jan. 4 in the journal Public Library of Science ONE, set about to create artificial proteins encoded by genetic sequences not seen in nature. They produced about 1 million amino acid sequences that were designed to fold into stable three-dimensional structures. "What I believe is most intriguing about our work is that the information encoded in these artificial genes is completely novel--it does not come from, nor is it significantly related to, information encoded by natural genes, and yet the end result is a living, functional microbe," says Michael Fisher, a co-author of the paper.

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