November 12, 2018
UC Irvine News
In a process known as directed evolution, scientists reengineer biomolecules to find ones that perform beneficial new functions. The field is revolutionizing drug development, chemical engineering and other applications, but to realize its promise involves painstaking and time-consuming laboratory work.
In a study published recently in the journal Cell, University of California Irvine researchers reported that they have accelerated and simplified directed evolution by having live cells do most of the heavy lifting. By inserting a specially engineered DNA replication system into yeast, the scientists were able to coax selected genes to rapidly and stably mutate and evolve as the host yeast cells reproduced.
According to senior author and Hertz Fellow Chang Liu, UCI assistant professor of biomedical engineering, when using directed evolution to create a better enzyme or protein – the work that won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry this year – the number of evolutionary cycles becomes very important, because each one can be seen as a step toward a new or improved function. “But if each cycle requires repetitious test-tube DNA molecular biology processing, you can only reasonably go through a few iterations,” he said.
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Chang Liu (right), UCI assistant professor of biomedical engineering, and Arjun Ravikumar, who recently earned his Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at UCI, collaborated on a study published in Cell that details a new method for simplifying and accelerating directed evolution experiments in labs. Kim Makuch/UCI News