Researchers at the California Institute of Technology demonstrated in a new study how live organisms such as bacteria can produce carbon-silicon bonds. This is an amazing discovery considering that type of material was only produced by chemists in laboratories.
Caltech scientists observed the creation of those man-made bonds only after breeding a bacterial protein. They used a method known as directed evolution, which was first used by Frances Arnold, the leader of the research team behind the discovery. The method uses artificial selection to create new and improved enzymes.
Researchers started the entire process by selecting one enzyme they want to enhance. Then they start mutating the DNA of the enzyme in random ways, after which they begin testing it for specific desirable traits. The enzyme which had the best results is mutated again until the entire process produces an enzyme capable of performing new functions or is just overall better than the original one, depending on what scientists want to achieve.
The study was innovative in the regard the unlike previous experiments, it not only sought to improve the function of an enzyme but to have it gain new capabilities as well. The researchers began with an enzyme found in the hot springs of Iceland, which showed the potential to create carbon-silicon bonds. Then they mutated in three rounds, after which it was able to produce the much sought after silicon-carbon bonds.
Additionally, the enzyme is able to produce the bonds 15 times more efficiently than any catalysts invented by chemists, while also producing fewer unwanted byproducts that require separation from the carbon-silicon bonds. Furthermore, the creation of this enzyme is considerably cheaper than the chemical process, can be done at room temperature in water, and thus it isn’t toxic, unlike other catalysts.
This discovery could have a huge impact on a number of industries which use carbon-silicon bonds which are also known as organosilicons. The compound is usually found in various pharmaceuticals, agricultural chemicals, semiconductors, paints, as well in various screens. One aspect that needs to be addressed for the discovery to actually matter is to scale-up the production of the carbon-silicon bonds up to industrial levels for mass use.
What do you think about this discovery?
Image source: Wikimedia