Tag Archives: Evolution

Nobel Laureate Frances Arnold creates new enzymes by


Share this on Facebook TweetShare this on LinkedInNobel Laureate Frances Arnold discusses “new-to-nature” enzymes in Vanderbilt Engineering’s Corridor Lecture
Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Frances Arnold delivered the Faculty of Engineering’s fall 2020 Corridor Lecture Sept. 15.

Mixing chemistry, biology and engineering, Frances Arnold tweaks enzymes present in nature to carry out new methods by altering their DNA.

Arnold, a Caltech chemical engineer with a Nobel Prize in Chemistry, scads extra awards and honors, and analysis citations by way of the roof, delivered a rousing digital lecture to some 700 listeners—virtually twice. “You missed a extremely nice lecture,” Arnold mentioned and smiled when she realized her web connection dropped shortly after her introduction and lasted virtually 20 minutes.

Unruffled, she restarted and delivered the Vanderbilt Faculty of Engineering’s 2020 fall John R. and Donna S. Corridor Engineering Lecture Tuesday, Sept. 15. Her lecture, “Innovation by Evolution: Bringing New Chemistry to Life” is a nod to her Nobel Lecture in 2018. Arnold is the fifth lady to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry because it was first awarded in 1901.

Arnold developed a way within the 1990s referred to as directed evolution that has put the facility of evolution into chemists’ palms. Her pioneering work is impressed by nature, utilizing evolution to revamp enzymes to be used in biotechnology and creating totally new dimensions to protein chemistry. Arnold calls nature “a superb chemist and by far the very best engineer of all time.”

“Enzymes are difficult,” Arnold mentioned. “However nature has a beautiful design course of for manipulating DNA to realize helpful features, and that’s evolution.” Arnold used the instance of atrazine, an herbicide initially regarded as non-biodegradeable and in the end banned in Europe. Some found organisms have developed to degrade man-made atrazine and make a brand new supply of nitrogen to maintain themselves.

“Scientists have used evolution to switch the organic world on the degree of DNA, bettering corn and making poodles,” she mentioned, popping a slide with a photograph of canine, a white poodle within the forefront.

Arnold makes use of the method of evolution—mutation and pure choice—to compose new DNA in enzymes: Breed in a take a look at tube. Make mutations. Select the very best ones. Repeat. Arnold’s lab has generated microbes that do what organisms in nature have by no means been recognized to do. She and her crew reported using enzymes to catalyse the formation of carbon-silicon bonds, two ample Earth components, however such bonds aren’t naturally occurring.  (Science, 2016)

Whereas others have contributed to the sector of directed evolution—and Arnold cites them—she developed the iterative strategies that mimic the random mutagenesis and choice present in nature and developed screening strategies to pick mutations for focused properties. Additionally, she selected to publish slightly than patent the processes so others may make new enzymes.

Arnold, the Linus Pauling Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering and Biochemistry at CalTech, has created enzymes for functions in various fuels, chemical compounds and prescribed drugs. She has cofounded three firms that use directed evolution to create enzymes: Gevo, a producer of biofuel and chemical compounds; Provivi, a specialist in unhazardous pest management; and Aralez Bio, which makes unnatural amino acids.

“As an alternative of asking what enzymes do within the pure world, we are able to now ask ‘What may they do?’” Arnold mentioned in her Nobel lecture, “A treasure trove of latest enzymes awaits discovery for finishing up chemistry that we couldn’t even ponder just some years in the past.”

Contact: Brenda Ellis, 615 343-6314

Posted on Thursday, September 17, 2020 in directed evolution, DNA, evolution, Frances Arnold, John R. and Donna S. Corridor Engineering Lecture, new-to-nature enzymes, Nobel Laureate 2018,Alumni, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Dwelling Options, Information, Information Sidebar, Analysis


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Where are the quokkas? New study explains what happened to


Australia, recently devastated by severe wildfires, is no stranger to the consequences of climate change, habitat destruction and invasive species.

The quokka, a small marsupial native to Australia, is one such example of a species vulnerable to extinction in the country’s harsh surroundings. Known as the “happiest animal in the world” due to its cute and friendly appearance, these creatures are now only found in a few isolated forests and small islands.

In a new study, published this month in the Journal of Zoology, researchers at Vanderbilt University demonstrate evidence that invasive species, most notably foxes, were likely responsible for the dramatic decline of quokkas over the past century. 

Quokka on a table. (Larisa DeSantis, Vanderbilt University)

“Australia has experienced catastrophic losses due to warming temperatures, drought, and the combination of these effects on resident animals,” said Larisa DeSantis, senior author and Associate Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Vanderbilt.  “The iconic wildlife Australia is best known for, evolved largely in isolation and has been in decline since Europeans introduced foxes, rabbits, goats, and other animals that have preyed upon and/or competed with native animals for food and water.” 

Until now, the reason for the decline in the quokka population was unclear. Some studies attributed the decline to climatic and vegetative change, while others have pointed to overhunting and/or the introduction of non-native species. 

To study the ecology of these mammals, DeSantis and undergraduate student Elinor Scholtz, the lead author of the study, examined the teeth of fossil and modern quokka specimens. By molding and drilling their teeth, they were able to determine the types of plants consumed and attributes about their habitat—through time and between mainland and island populations.

“Piecing together the ecological history of the quokka helped us better understand why they are an isolated and vulnerable species today,” said Scholtz. “We learned that quokkas on mainland Australia today occupy denser forests than in the past, likely to avoid predation by foxes.  In contrast, quokkas typically live in more open habitats and feed on tougher vegetation on islands that lack foxes.”

While they occur in high numbers on Rottnest Island, an island that foxes were unable to occupy, numerous quokkas die on Rottnest Island every summer due to the lack of sufficient freshwater—with mortality only expected to increase with warmer temperatures and more frequent droughts.The destruction caused by brushfires in Stirling Range in Western Australia has also made these ‘vulnerable’ animals even more prone to extinction.

“To put this all in perspective, the entire geographic range of quokkas is only a fraction of the size of the forests that were completely decimated from fires during one year in Australia,” said DeSantis.  “We are essentially playing roulette with native species in Australia, and the odds are stacked against quokkas and many other native animals in the face of invasive species, fires, and the current climate crisis.”

The research is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation and funding from Vanderbilt University.


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New methodology reveals how variations within the genetic “instruction booklet” between people and Neanderthals influenced traits | Vanderbilt Information


With regards to our variations from Neanderthals, most of what we all know comes from evaluating fossils. However fossils can solely inform us about bones and never entire residing organisms.

That’s altering because of a brand new paper from a staff of genomics researchers at Vanderbilt, who’ve developed a first-of-its-kind computational methodology. Their strategy makes use of Neanderthal DNA that is still in these bones to seek out variations in how genes are managed between fashionable people and Neanderthals. This newfound capability to check modifications within the on/off “directions” for genes, also called gene regulation, helps establish variations that fossils alone can not inform us.

The analysis seems immediately within the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Developed by Tony Capra, affiliate professor of Organic Sciences, and his staff at Vanderbilt, the computational method compares hundreds of human genomes and the few Neanderthal genomes out there. This permits for deeper understanding of how genomes differ in operate and the way sure traits modified between people and our shut family.

“Up till now, it has been difficult to interpret how particular person genetic variations between people and our shut family relate to variations in our traits,” famous Capra. “Our new method integrates the results of many genetic variants collectively to provide a extra holistic have a look at what variations in our DNA imply about variations in our biology. That is serving to us perceive how our species modified throughout the previous few hundred thousand years.”

Tony Capra (Joe Howell / Vanderbilt College)

Utilizing their new computational method, the staff uncovered a various array of variations between human and Neanderthal immune, skeletal, cardiovascular and reproductive methods. Lending assist to the strategy, a few of the findings are in keeping with identified variations from fossils, such because the shorter stature of Neanderthals. The staff discovered that how and when genes are energetic modified far more than the genes themselves, and in some circumstances these modifications have been doubtless the results of totally different environmental pressures. 

The analysis builds on earlier work from Capra’s staff, who in 2016 discovered that DNA inherited from Neanderthals influences illness danger in fashionable people—additionally proving the flexibility to make use of digital well being report information in evolutionary research.

The subsequent step for the brand new analysis, in response to Capra, is to use the tactic throughout the wide selection of historical human DNA out there immediately—not simply Neanderthals. 

“Rising our understanding of what makes our ancestors each totally different and just like us will give us an more and more related and well timed view on what occurred to make us human,” added Capra. “The power to learn this ‘instruction booklet’ for a way genes have been induced or repressed will set the stage for future analysis and will even someday result in important therapeutic implications.”


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High standards of female songbirds could be driving their mates to evolve | Vanderbilt News


Hearing longer love songs from songbirds in your backyard? Chalk it up to sexual preference – and high standards.

New research on songbirds from Biological Sciences researchers at Vanderbilt suggests that females, who are choosing males with the most elaborate songs as their potential partners, are influencing male songbirds to evolve toward learning (and practicing) songs throughout their lives – an evolutionary occurrence previously believed to be mainly a result of changes in a bird’s environment, breeding season, or migration. 

The paper, published this week in the journal eLife by Vanderbilt Biological Sciences professor Nicole Creanza and graduate students Cristina Robinson and Kate Snyder, is the first study to demonstrate that songs, which are sexually selected, coevolve with how long the birds can learn, and may even drive evolutionary changes in birds’ brains. 

“We were curious as to why some birds learn throughout their lives and why others only learn when they’re juveniles,“ said Creanza. “Researchers have thought about this question for a while, but usually linked their findings back to those other environmental aspects of the birds’ lives. We had a hypothesis that sexual preference for songs could also be a factor.”

Nicole Creanza (Vanderbilt University)

Song, a learned vocal behavior in songbirds that develops in a similar way to how humans learn language, is a relatively rare feature in the animal kingdom. It serves multiple purposes for birds, helping them recognize their own species, defend their territory and attract mates. While some songbirds continue to learn their songs throughout their entire lives, many species are finished learning by the time they reach sexual maturity – just as we humans learn more easily during our formative years.

The team compiled data on 67 different songbird species as part of their study, and compared various factors for each song including overall length of songs and their “vocabulary size” – or number of different syllables that each species can sing.

According to Creanza and her team, the findings demonstrate a link between how songs sound and how birds learn them. This could change the way scientists think about lifelong learning in birds. It could also hold significant implications for how we think about lifelong learning in other species – even humans. 

“As we learn more about these time-windows for learning in birds and what causes them to evolve and lengthen, we may be able to apply those findings to how and why human learning windows may have evolved over time. One day, if researchers understand what happens in the brain when a bird maintains its ability to learn, it might shed new light on how to help the brain repair itself in humans.” 


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