Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Biotechnology Firms Dealing in High-Speed Evolution Natural Enzymes Put on Fast-Forward

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Biotechnology Firms Dealing in High-Speed Evolution Natural Enzymes Put on Fast-Forward

Article excerpt

SEATTLE -- It's a revolution in evolution that Charles Darwin never dreamed of: Biotechnology companies are conducting high-speed evolution in test tubes to create everything from super laundry detergents to novel drugs.

Called directed evolution, the process could prove one of the most important steps in biotechnology since genetic engineering.

The idea is to discover in nature substances that perform in a certain way but have drawbacks -- like a cancer-fighting protein that can only be used in small doses because of side effects -- and force them to rapidly evolve to be better.

"It's optimizing the best nature can provide," explained Jay Short, president of Diversa Inc., which is trying to improve blood transfusions with the process.

The first commercial product derived from directed evolution is an enzyme that fights tough laundry stains better than a previous detergent ingredient. But companies are studying dozens of others -- from anticancer drugs and better vaccines to a fade-resistant laundry enzyme that promises to let people wash a red shirt together with underwear without their socks turning pink.

In biotechnology, the process until now has been: "Here are genes from nature, and what can I do to squash these into a workable commercial product?" said Russell Howard, president of Maxygen Inc.

But redesigning genes or the proteins they produce to fit a specific need is very difficult and expensive because scientists simply don't understand enough about how these complex substances work, said Frances Arnold, a directed evolution pioneer at the California Institute of Technology.

Nature pressures species to adapt, forcing diversification and survival of the fittest. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.