Every living thing is made of proteins, and proteins are made from just 20 amino acids that nature provides.
What happens if humans make new amino acids to add to nature’s catalog? We’re going to find out.
At the University of Pittsburgh, chemists have created a new process that enables them to use an enzyme to design and build amino acids nature never thought of.
To do so, they used computer simulations to map the movement of electrons and molecules as amino acids are formed. Next, they used an enzyme called Pyridoxal 5′-phosphate, the biologically active form of vitamin B6, which is important in creating and processing amino acids.
By pairing the enzyme with a light-sensitive catalyst, they were able to add or subtract parts of an amino acid without warping the shape of acid or the protein it’s part of. That’s the key: a protein’s shape determines its function.
TRENDPOST: Artificial intelligence is already at work designing new proteins using nature’s amino acids, but being able to invent new amino acids is entirely unprecedented.
Designing new amino acids could lead to designing never-before-seen proteins AI hasn’t conceived, which implies combining them to make new life forms.
That step would be far in the future, but is coming closer all the time with AI’s growing capabilities.
This new development adds to the list of breakthrough biotechnologies that challenge ethicists to create guidelines for.