Chemistry: the central science

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Some call chemistry the “central science” and it’s not hard to see why. The huge range of projects in which chemistry researchers are involved cross paths with engineering, physics, earth sciences, medicine, and biology. We at Nature Methods are particularly interested in publishing new applications of chemical compounds, tools, or analytical methods that demonstrate potential to provide valuable novel and practical contributions to biology. We’ve got a few very nice papers in our April issue that illustrate this goal well.

From the Department of Chemistry at MIT, Alice Ting and her colleagues have successfully designed a streptavidin tetramer with only one high affinity biotin binding site. While protein chemists will appreciate the design and engineering process, cell biologists will certainly find the mutant streptavidin useful for applications such as cell surface protein labeling. (Listen to Professor Ting speak about this work on Nature’s special Chemistry Podcast.)

We also have a solid contribution from Peter Schultz at the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at Scripps. The Schultz lab has long been a leader in developing and refining a genetic method for incorporating functional unnatural amino acids into proteins; however, the method was somewhat technically challenging for biologists. Now they report a streamlined procedure for using the system in bacteria.

Sometimes, existing chemical tools or methods can find new life in biological applications. Helen Blau and her colleagues at Stanford University discovered that the small organic molecule “Lugal” available in the Promega Beta-Glo Assay System (to quantify ß-galactosidase activity in cell culture), could also be used as a bioluminescent reagent to image ß-galactosidase activity in living cells.

I welcome comments on these papers and hope to meet with some of you chemists at the ACS meeting with other interesting biological stories to tell!

Allison Doerr, Assistant Editor, Nature Methods

Go to the profile of Allison Doerr

Allison Doerr

Chief Editor, Nature Methods, Springer Nature

Allison has been an editor with Nature Methods since 2005, and chief editor since November 2018. She has been responsible for all areas of biochemistry for the journal, including structural biology and proteomics. Prior to her editorial career, she completed her Ph.D. in Chemistry at Princeton University, where she studied de novo protein design and protein-ligand interactions using NMR spectroscopy.

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