Stories

Scientists create bacteria that can build rare molecules

The molecular structure of an enzyme produced by engineered bacteria.Image: Caltech / Frances Arnold Laboratory

Bacteria have been engineered to create molecules out of boron and carbon that wouldn't otherwise exist in nature, writes Sam Lemonick for Forbes. The research, described Wednesday in the journal Nature, was conducted by Frances Arnold and her colleagues at Caltech.

Why it matters: Some molecules aren't naturally produced by living creatures and can be costly and difficult to produce in the lab via chemical reactions. Certain cancer drugs require specific boron-carbon bonds, writes Lemonick, and researchers report this process seems 400 times more efficient at creating those bonds than other methods to synthesize them.

The sci-fi stuff: In the future, we might be engineering bacteria that can create a molecule in response to a cue from their environment. For example, it could be possible to make ones that respond to low blood sugar by creating insulin.

Go deeper: We're just starting to explore the potential of synthetic biology. Among other things, scientists have: