Small code change, big effect: Using synthetic biology to precisely label proteins

Mar 24, 2011

Scientists at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany, have developed a new method which enables researchers to label any protein of their choice with any of a wide variety of previously available compounds, in living cells, by introducing a single reactive artificial amino acid. Published today in Angewandte Chemie, the new technique enables researchers to label even rare proteins very precisely for optical imaging and in the future likely also for Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).

Carsten Schultz, Edward Lemke and colleagues tricked the cell's protein-synthesising machinery into replacing one of the protein's building blocks – – with an artificial amino acid variety that is suitable for performing biocompatible chemical reactions. This artificial amino acid was tailor-made by the EMBL scientists to ensure that the cell's spell-checking machinery couldn't detect it, and once it had been incorporated into the protein of interest, it acted as a loading site to which different labels can be attached, in what is called a catalyst-free 'click' reaction.

This novel technique has several advantages. It allows researchers to use the most efficient fluorescent dyes, enabling high-contrast fluorescence microscopy. And, as it involves changing only one of the hundreds of amino acids that typically make up a protein, it causes much less disturbance to the cell than previous approaches, which depended on introducing much larger molecules.

Schultz, Lemke and colleagues engineered the 'click' reaction so that it is the act of binding to it that turns on a fluorescent label. This ensures very precise measurements, as there is little background signal from unattached dye.

Having developed this method initially in the bacterium E. coli, the EMBL scientists are now working on implementing it in mammalian like our own.

Explore further: 'Hairclip' protein mechanism explained

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Research breakthrough for the protein factories of tomorrow

Sep 22, 2006

Using a kind of molecular ‘hip joint operation,’ researchers at Uppsala University have succeeded in replacing a natural amino acid in a protein with an artificial one. This step forward opens the possibility of creating ...

One-touch make-up -- for our cells

Nov 17, 2010

A new technique developed by scientists at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Grenoble, France and collaborators enables them to introduce up to 15 fluorescent markers to a mammalian cell in one go, and could help ...

New compound effectively treats fungal infections

Jun 22, 2007

A new mechanism to attack hard-to-treat fungal infections has been revealed by scientists from the biotech company Anacor Pharmaceuticals Inc., California, and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) outstation in ...

Recommended for you

'Hairclip' protein mechanism explained

7 hours ago

Research led by the Teichmann group on the Wellcome Genome Campus has identified a fundamental mechanism for controlling protein function. Published in the journal Science, the discovery has wide-ranging implications for bi ...

Discovery in the fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria

9 hours ago

For four years, researchers at Universite catholique de Louvain have been trying to find out how bacteria can withstand antibiotics, so as to be able to attack them more effectively. These researchers now understand how one ...

Stem cells born out of indecision

9 hours ago

Scientists at the University of Copenhagen have gained new insight into embryonic stem cells and how blocking their ability to make choices explains why they stay as stem cells in culture. The results have just been published ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.