How ‘bionic’ bacteria can help fight disease and global warming

Genetically enhanced bacteria may pave the way for creating new synthetic drugs to help fight disease and manufacturing biofuels to combat global warming, US researchers say.

Researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have created bacteria capable of effectively incorporating “unnatural” amino acids – artificial additions to the 20 naturally occurring amino acids used as biological building blocks – into proteins at multiple sites.

This ability may provide a powerful new tool for the study of biological processes and for engineering bacteria that produce new types of synthetic chemicals, the report said.

An “expanded genetic code” created by the scientists overrides the genetic code of the cells and instructing them to use the artificial amino acids in the construction of proteins.

“This provides us with a lot more room to think about what we can do with protein synthesis,” said Lei Wang, assistant professor in Salk’s Chemical Biology and Proteomics Laboratory and holder of the Frederick B. Rentschler Developmental Chair.

“It opens up new possibilities, from creating drugs that last longer in the blood stream to manufacturing chemicals in a more environmentally friendly manner.”

The study was recently published in the journal Nature Chemical Biology.

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