04 September 2007

Replicator! Yes Captain? Replicate 50 Grams Globamycin Immediately!

Researchers at Scripps and Harvard have taken the early conceptual steps necessary to create an antibiotic replicator, for rapid synthesis of potentially lifesaving drugs.
“This study may signal the start of a new era in how drugs are synthesized,” said Moore, a professor in the Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine at Scripps. “Assembling all the enzymes together in a single reaction vessel is a different way to make a complex molecule.”

While much more work is needed to employ this process on a mass scale, the achievement proves that such synthesis is possible relatively cheaply and easily—without the use of man-made chemicals.... The antibiotic synthesized in Moore’s laboratory, called enterocin, was assembled in approximately two hours. Such a compound would normally take months if not a year to prepare chemically, according to Moore.

Rather than a “eureka” moment that led to the breakthrough, Moore said the process was achieved incrementally. The time-consuming work was spent beforehand identifying and preparing the enzymes that would ultimately catalyze the synthesis, also known as assembling the “biosynthetic pathway.”

“We’ve been preparing for some time now a ‘biological toolbox,’” said Moore. “In this new process the enzymes become the tools to do the synthesis.”

....The new research also carries the potential to combine certain natural enzymes to produce new molecules that typically cannot be found in nature with the goal of developing new drugs. Moore calls these “unnatural natural products.”

Medical workers and replicators could be airlifted into remote areas in case of mass casualty epidemics. Rapid testing of body fluids from victims allows the medics to quickly set the necessary enzyme pathways and potential resistances. In short order, lifesaving supplies of exactly the right drug are being replicated from raw material. Backup replicators can be set for auxiliary treatments as needed.

For now, this type of tool will be developed in research labs, to facilitate commercial drug synthesis and other chemical synthesis techniques. Researchers will be able to play with this tool for quite some time.


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