EMBO Gold Medal 2010 recognizes Jason W. Chin - Synthetic biologist
Chin’s work centers on reprogramming the genetic code – the code of life that contains the information necessary for synthe-sizing molecules that allow organisms to survive and replicate. DNA is copied to messenger RNA in cells; triplet codons in the messenger RNA (mRNA) are then decoded in the process of trans-lation to make proteins composed of a canon of 20 naturally occurring amino acids.
Chin is rewriting this central dogma to create organisms that synthesize proteins containing designer amino acids. He has developed molecular biology tools to incorporate the designer amino acids into proteins, allowing his group to investigate the role of protein interactions and post-translational modifications in diverse biological processes. Chin’s group has genetically encoded acetyl-lysine and methyl-lysine into proteins. This has allowed Chin, in collaboration with Daniela Rhodes who is also at MRC-LMB, to construct ‘designer chromatin’ to define the role of post-translational modifications in epigenetics and DNA-dependent processes such as DNA repair, transcription and replication.
During his postdoctoral research years at The Scripps Research Institute in California, he pioneered the development of an orthogonal aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase/ tRNACUA pair to direct the incorporation of designer amino acids into proteins in response to the amber stop codon. He then developed at MRC-LMB general methods for creating new ortho-gonal aminoacyl-tRNAsynthetase/ tRNA pairs and created new orthogonal ribosomes that decode quadruplet rather than triplet codons. By bringing together the new ribosomes and aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases in the same cell he has created a new translation system that operates in parallel with natural protein translation and allows the incorporation of multiple designer amino acids into proteins in cells.
“We would like to be able to synthesize and evolve designer polymers in cells” Chin explains. These might enable the creation of new therapeutics and the discovery and synthesis of biological plastics and other materials.
The prizewinner will receive the EMBO Gold Medal and an award of 10,000 euro on 6 September 2010 at The EMBO Meeting in Barcelona where he will give a special lecture about his research.
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