Biotech's new invaluable tool

In just two decades, the protein equivalent of an intron has carved out a significant niche in biotechnology -- and captured the interest of evolutionary biologists, who suspect these potentially ancient elements could provide clues to early enzymes. Image: Wikimedia commonsWith the ability to splice themselves out of proteins and paste the two loose ends of the protein back together, inteins are proving to be an invaluable tool in biotechnology. Just 20 years since their discovery, inteins are

Jef Akst
Jef Akst

Jef Akst is managing editor of The Scientist, where she started as an intern in 2009 after receiving a master’s degree from Indiana University in April 2009 studying the mating behavior of seahorses.

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Sep 15, 2010
In just two decades, the protein equivalent of an intron has carved out a significant niche in biotechnology -- and captured the interest of evolutionary biologists, who suspect these potentially ancient elements could provide clues to early enzymes.
Image: Wikimedia commons
With the ability to splice themselves out of proteins and paste the two loose ends of the protein back together, inteins are proving to be an invaluable tool in biotechnology. Just 20 years since their discovery, inteins are already being used to purify, manipulate, and even create proteins that were difficult (or impossible) to build using traditional techniques. "It's a very fast moving field," said chemical biologist linkurl:Fran Perler;http://www.neb.com/nebecomm/researchScientist.asp?id=FPerler of New England Biolabs, which currently has an intein-based purification method on the market. "The technology is all based on being able to introduce interesting chemical modifications into proteins and study how these modifications change the protein." The first intein...
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