A New Cook Arrives in Life’s Kitchen

Nov 9, 2015

Inside every cell is a chef of sorts, cooking up the “cuisine” that makes life possible—a vast array of proteins. Now scientists have built an alien chef, capable of cooking from recipes written in artificial DNA to make novel proteins that might serve as antibiotics, biofuels or other useful molecules.

In the typical order of things, these chefs, known as ribosomes, are made of two pieces of RNA and amino acids that work together briefly to build proteins and then go their own ways when the job is done. Biological engineer Michael Jewett of Northwestern University and pharmaceutical biotechnologist Alexander Mankin of the University of Illinois at Chicago decided to try something new: tethering the two parts of their synthetic ribosome, Ribo-T, to each other so it could continue to follow the same set of novel instructions. No prior life on earth—either evolved in the wild or made by scientists in the laboratory—is known to have ever had or lived with such a tied-up ribosome.

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