Science & Tech

Researchers make new compounds from protein

1 min read

Rewriting the genetic code in the name of medicine

Over the years, scientists have repeatedly sought to use a cell’s protein-making process to create new drugs and other compounds. They have had some dramatic successes, such as inducing bacteria to produce human insulin by splicing human insulin-producing genes into the bacteria’s DNA. They have been limited, however, to creating only natural substances like insulin by nature’s insistence that anything a cell makes is drawn from the 20 naturally occurring amino acids. Harvard Medical School researchers Stephen Blacklow and Anthony Forster’s findings have now changed – in a test tube anyway – a fundamental law of biology termed the “central dogma.” The central dogma says that information flows in a rigid way within a cell, originating in the DNA, moving to the RNA, which then couples with a ribosome to create proteins out of the naturally occurring amino acids according to the universal genetic code. Blacklow and Forster figured out a way around the system’s natural constraints by essentially hijacking the DNA’s messages in transit. They did this by switching the chemical adaptors that respond to the DNA’s instructions. Instead of delivering the natural amino acids that the DNA calls for, these new adaptors introduce their custom-made unnatural amino acids.