More than 30 novel amino acids have been genetically encoded in response to unique triplet and quadruplet codons including fluorescent, photoreactive and redox active amino acids, glycosylated and heavy atom derived amino acids in addition to those with keto, azido and acetylenic chains. In this article, we describe recent advances that make it possible to add new building blocks systematically to the genetic codes of bacteria, yeast and mammalian cells. Taken together these tools will enable the detailed investigation of protein structure and function, which is not possible with conventional mutagenesis. Moreover, by lifting the constraints of the existing 20-amino-acid code, it should be possible to generate proteins and perhaps entire organisms with new or enhanced properties.
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