Now a team of investigators at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) and its Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology in La Jolla, California is introducing revolutionary changes into the genetic code of organisms like yeast that allow these cellular factories to mass produce proteins with unnatural amino acids.
Led by Professor Peter G. Schultz, Ph.D., who holds the Scripps Family Chair in Chemistry at TSRI, the team is reporting in the latest issue of the journal Science a general method for adding unnatural amino acids to the genetic code of a type of yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
In the paper, the TSRI team describes how they incorporated five unnatural amino acids into the yeast, a "eukaryotic" organism that has cells with membrane-bound nuclei. Earlier studies by the same group incorporated unnatural amino acids in "prokaryotic" bacterial cells, which lack membrane-bound nuclei. By demonstrating that it is possible to add unnatural amino acids to the genetic code of yeast, the TSRI team has set the stage for a whole new approach to applying the same technology to other eukaryotic cells, and even multicellular organisms.
"Yeast is the gateway to mammalian cells," says Schultz. "We've opened up the whole pathway to higher organisms."
The ability to introduce these unnatural amino acids into eukaryotic cells provides a way of studying and controlling the biological processes that form the basis for some of the most intriguing problems in modern biophysics and cell biology, like signal transduction, protein trafficking in the cell, protein folding, and proteinprotein interactions.
"The ability to put unnatural amino acids into proteins is an incredibly powerful tool," says Schultz. "We've been able to insert a huge number of amino acids t
Contact: Jason Bardi
Scripps Research Institute