Enzyme forges carbon-silicon bonds with a little human help | Science News


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Enzyme forges carbon-silicon bonds with a little human help

Selective breeding produces biological ability to link resistant atoms

7:00am, December 1, 2016
silicon-based life illustration

FREAKY FUTURE Is silicon-based life (illustrated above) out there in the universe? The jury is still out — but with a little help from humans, life on Earth might be able to sprinkle a little silicon in with its carbon.

Carbon and silicon don’t play nice in nature — they link up only in human-made products like paint and pharmaceuticals. But after just three generations of selective breeding, an enzyme can bring the two atoms together, scientists report November 25 in Science. It’s the first time biological tools have bonded carbon to silicon, perhaps opening a way to let living organisms build proteins and other molecules containing silicon.

“What excites me is the demonstration of how rapidly biological systems can innovate,” says study coauthor Frances Arnold, a chemical engineer at Caltech. “They can create new chemistry, new catalytic capabilities out of what’s already there.”

Enzymes are biological catalysts — they kick-start important chemical reactions happening inside living organisms. When the Caltech researchers tested enzymes sitting in their lab

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