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Microbe lives on lab-grown proteins

Synthetic proteins designed in the lab—using genetic sequences never before seen in nature—work much like the real thing to sustain life.

“What we have here are molecular machines that function quite well within a living organism even though they were designed from scratch and expressed from artificial genes,” says Michael Hecht, study leader and chemistry professor at Princeton University. “This tells us that the molecular parts kit for life need not be limited to parts—genes and proteins—hat already exist in nature.”

“What I believe is most intriguing about our work is that the information encoded in these artificial genes is completely novel—it does not come from, nor is it significantly related to, information encoded by natural genes, and yet the end result is a living, functional microbe,” says Michael Fisher, a co-author of the paper who earned his Ph.D. at Princeton in 2010 and is now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California-Berkeley.

Once the team had created this new library of artificial proteins, they inserted those proteins into various mutant strains of bacteria in which certain natural genes previously had been deleted. The deleted natural genes are required for survival under a given set of conditions, including a limited food supply.

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