Thank the rare crested ibis for a clue that could someday help our bodies make better drugs.
The species of bird is the only one known to naturally produce an enzyme able to generate a noncanonical amino acid; that is, one not among the 20 necessary to encode most proteins.
That it exists — a discovery made through computational comparison of genome databases — proves it’s possible for that enzyme to work within the context of living cells, even if scientists don’t know what it does for the bird.
But they have a pretty good idea of what it could do for us.
A new study by Rice University chemist Han Xiao, theoretical physicist Peter Wolynes and their colleagues shows that amino acid, sulfotyrosine (sTyr), a mutant of the standard amino acid tyrosine, is a key building block to program living cells that express therapeutic proteins. It could potentially allow cells to serve as sensors…