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Resurrecting Earth’s ancient enzymes in quest to make more effective drugs and chemicals

| | November 15, 2018

In the 1990 Michael Crichton novel “Jurassic Park,” scientists resurrect extinct species, with disastrous, page-turning consequences. But what if the scientists hadn’t wanted to re-create whole organisms, just a part of their long-lost molecular machinery?

Engineers are interested in using these versatile natural machines to speed up industrial chemical reactions in environmentally friendly ways. Unfortunately, enzymes tend to unravel in the harsh conditions often used in commercial processes.

In the new research, the team used the same basic technique to resurrect additional ancient enzymes from both before and after multicellular life emerged on Earth. The enzymes themselves are long gone, but the scientists studied the genes of many different species that have a modern version, and then used a computer algorithm to take a best guess at how the genes evolved and what the most likely form in a common ancestor would look like.

Related article:  Who owns the DNA of ancient humans—and do they have rights?

Using this process, the researchers resurrected an enzyme that the first vertebrate animals likely used to help eliminate foreign chemicals from their bodies, as well as an enzyme that likely helped ancient bacteria make the building blocks for proteins. Modern relatives of both enzymes have attracted industry interest, the first for its potential to aid drug development and make specialized chemicals such as flavors and fragrances, and the second for its potential use in making biofuels.

Read full, original post: Scientists Resurrect Ancient Versions of Life’s Molecular Machinery

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