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Macademics: Evolutionary Biology


Hey everyone! In honor of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry being given to a woman named Frances H. Arnold (the fifth one in history!!), I decided to do my #Macademics post about the work that she does.  The work she, and the other men she's sharing the prize with, do uses directed evolution to create new enzymes and antibodies. 


Let's start here: The Central Dogma of Biology. 

As you all know we're made up of DNA, which has all of our genetic information stored in it. That DNA gets transcribed to RNA, what helps regulate our gene expressions. RNA then gets translated into proteins, which have A LOT of functions in our cells.

What Francis Arnold focuses on is the proteins. One function of proteins is to act as enzymes that help catalyze certain reactions in our bodies. Arnold's work explores ways to help improve these enzymatic functions via directed evolution. This strategy uses iterative rounds of randomly changing proteins' genes and tracking their functions post-mutations. What she does I could call "nature in the lab". This means that she speeds up nature's process of mutating these genes by directly changing the sequences of the proteins in the lab before testing their effects.

If one of the mutations works, she keeps changing the sequence until she completely optimizes its functions. One of the applications she uses this strategy for is to create new enzymes to produce renewable fuels and pharmaceuticals that are less harmful for the environment. One of the advantages of doing this is that it doesn't have to be completely random. You can focus on mutating the protein where it's most likely going to have the most effect on activity - aka some parts of the proteins have higher activity than others and you can use that to your advantage. 

I won't go into detail about the work that George Smith and Gregory Winter do, but you can read it from the picture I chose for this post. Long story short, they all use directed evolution to answer different biological problems, which is pretty cool.

I hope you learned a little something this week! See you next month for another installment of #Macademics

-The Chemist

#Macademics #MacScientist #NobelPrize #Chemistry #EvolutionaryBiology

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