Protein and Metabolic Engineering

Scott A. Banta

Proteins are the workhorses of the cell. With different combinations of the 20 common amino acids (and some modifications of these amino acids), proteins have evolved with a staggering array of functions and capabilities including: the specific binding of ligands, catalysis of complex chemical reactions, functionality in extreme environments, transportation of valuable molecules, and the exhibition of diverse structural and material properties. Therefore, there has been a long and rich body of research aimed at the investigation of proteins and their abilities, which has been partially motivated due to their widespread participation in disease processes.The main thrusts in the field of Protein Engineering can be loosely divided into two areas.Originally, protein engineering evolved as a powerful method for the investigation and verification of hypotheses during the study of protein functions.For example, theories that arose about the mechanisms of enzymatic catalysis could be proven or debunked through the mutation of key amino acid side chains.This approach has greatly enhanced our understanding and appreciation of a wide variety of protein structures and functions.Out of this academic pursuit, it was soon realized that these same techniques could also be used to engineer proteins for desired improvements.Proteins are generally optimized to function in their native environments.As enzymes are increasingly employed in new situations, such as in novel industrial and therapeutic applications, methods for the rapid and targeted improvements of proteins are required.

Cellular metabolism is an intricate and highly evolved chemical network of enzymes that allows a cell or organism to extract and utilize material from its environment to make useful products including primary metabolites, secondary metabolites, and high-energy molecules.The study of the metabolic capabilities of different cells has been an active area of inquiry for many years.Recently, the field of Metabolic Engineering has evolved which allows for the quantitative modeling and characterization of metabolic networks, and the engineering of metabolic networks to bring about a desired new goal.Metabolic engineering was originally developed and applied for use in prokaryotic systems, but recently it has been increasingly applied to eukaryotic systems and problems of biomedical interest.

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