Leconte group publishes a new approach to protein engineering
Aaron Leconte
Firefly luciferase is the protein that makes fireflies glow. It is also a valuable bioimaging tool; in the same way that the firefly glows, cells containing the gene for firefly luciferase will also glow, enabling tracking of cells in whole organisms. While the protein is a powerful tool that has already been applied to study complex biological processes such as cancer metastasis and viral infections, improvements to the enzyme would enable new approaches to bioimaging, further expanding the utility of this tool.

In a recent issue of Biochemistry, scientists at the W. M. Keck Science Department report on the development and application of a new protein engineering method to identify new firefly luciferases. The authors show that they can use this method to quickly identify variants of firefly luciferase with useful properties with applications in bioimaging, such as altered emission color and altered substrate recognition.

The work was a joint effort between researchers at Keck Science Department and at University of California-Irvine. The team at Keck Science was led by Assistant Professor of Chemistry Aaron Leconte and the manuscript was coauthored by seven students in the Keck Science Department: Mira Liu (CMC ’18), Elliot Warner (CMC ’18), Charlotte Morrissey (CMC ’19), Caitlyn Fick (Scripps ’19), Taia Wu (Scripps ’15), Marya Ornelas (Pitzer ’20), and Gabriela Ochoa (Scripps ’19).

M. D. Liu*, E. A. Warner*, C. A. Morrissey, C. W. Fick, T. S. Wu, M. Y. Ornelas, G. V. Ochoa, B. Zhang, C. M. Rathbun, W. B. Porterfield, J. A. Prescher, and A. M. Leconte. Statistical Coupling Analysis-guided library design for discovery of mutant luciferases, Biochemistry (in press).


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