Molecular evolution by design

Posted by Robert Bradbury: For many years we have had “rational design” of drugs (see drug design) and other small molecules. Unfortunately these developments have been generally limited, particularly with respect to proteins, because we have not really solved the protein folding problem. We have had several companies, particularly Maxygen and Genencor which have worked aggressively on evolving proteins, esp. enzymes, to perform specific functions or improve the efficiency of the functions they already perform. These efforts can be limited because while it is easy to create variants, the screening process to identify those mutants with the desired properties can be extremely laborious.

A group at UIUC has announced a process that may be called “managed evolution”. It involves using multpile steps where by successive approximation they evolve a
protein in the direction of having the properties they desire. This significantly reduces the amount of labor involved in the evolution and screening process.

It is worth noting this may enable a relatively simple path to evolve (rather than design) the molecular grippers required for the sorting rotors outlined in Chapter 13 of Nanosystems.

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