Chemistry in Living Systems
Jennifer Prescher, University of California, Irvine
Cellular processes are driven by the coordinated actions of numerous biopolymers and small molecule metabolites. Examining these diverse classes of biomolecules in physiologically authentic environments is necessary for a complete understanding of living systems. Genetically encoded reporters, including GFP, are available for monitoring proteins in live cells. While powerful, such tools are not amenable to tracking non-proteinaceous biomolecules, including lipids, glycans, and small molecule natural products. To access these species, the chemical biology community has developed a general platform to equip cellular molecules with visual tags and other probes. This strategy relies on the installation of unique functional groups into target biomolecules that can be chemically ligated in a second step. The chemistries employed in this approach must be ultra selective and non-perturbing to biological systems. For these reasons, they have been collectively termed “bioorthogonal.” This session will introduce the basic features of bioorthogonal chemistries and how these reactions have been used to probe biomolecules in cells and other environments. Bioorthogonal chemistries are providing new insights into biomolecule structures and functions, and thus enhancing our understanding of living systems.