"It's kind of like giving typewriters to monkeys," he says. "One monkey and one typewriter won't produce anything clever. But if you have enough monkeys and typewriters, eventually one of them will write 'to be or not to be'." The lottery provides another analogy. "If you buy more tickets, you're more likely to win," Seelig says.
Like all proteins, the new RNA ligase enzyme is a chain of amino acids folded into a 3D structure, but the resemblance stops there. Natural enzymes, like all proteins, are made from alpha helices and beta strands. Seelig's artificial enzyme lacks those structures. Instead, it forms around two metal ions and is not rigid. "Compared to enzymes we know from nature, the artificial enzyme has a rather unusual structure and dynamics," Seelig says.
For decades, naturally occurring enzymes have been tweaked by industry to make industrial processes and products more effective. The ability to create enzymes from scratch using a natural process opens the door to a vast array of new products that provide business opportunities and improve quality of life without harmful environmental effects.
Going forward, Seelig plans to create enzymes with useful applications while he continues to explore the underlying basic science of enzyme structure and function, aiming to learn more about the origin of enzymes and how proteins evolve.
"Enzymes have always fascinated me," he says. "It's rewarding to do work that has practical applications yet provides the opportunity to better understand how life on earth evolved."
|Contact: Matt Hodson|
University of Minnesota