One approach to understanding components in living organisms is to attempt to create them artificially, using principles of chemistry, engineering and genetics. A suite of powerful techniques—collectively referred to as synthetic biology—have been used to produce self-replicating molecules, artificial pathways in living systems and organisms bearing synthetic genomes.
In a new twist, John Chaput, a researcher at Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute and colleagues at the Department of Pharmacology, Midwestern University, Glendale, AZ have fabricated an artificial protein in the laboratory and examined the surprising ways living cells respond to it.
“If you take a protein that was created in a test tube and put it inside a cell, does it still function,” Chaput asks. “Does the cell recognize it? Does the cell just chew it up and spit it out?” This unexplored area represents a new domain for synthetic biology and may ultimately lead to the development of novel therapeutic agents.
The research results, reported in the advanced online edition of the journal ACS Chemical Biology, describe a peculiar set of adaptations exhibited by Escherichia coli bacterial cells exposed to a synthetic protein, dubbed DX. Inside the cell, DX proteins bind with molecules of ATP, the energy source required by all biological entities.