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:
- Created a massive industry that engineers bacteria to create enzymes, which are molecules that cells use to function or break down proteins (think: lactase, an enzyme humans need to break down the lactic acid in milk.)
- Used CRISPR to code and store a video in bacterial DNA
- Created a bacteria that uses CRISPR to record and store information about their environment.