Sequence-Specific Peptide Synthesis by an Artificial Small-Molecule Machine

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Science  11 Jan 2013:
Vol. 339, Issue 6116, pp. 189-193
DOI: 10.1126/science.1229753

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Ribosomal Rotaxane?

The ribosome is an extraordinarily sophisticated molecular machine, assembling amino acids into proteins based on the precise sequence dictated by messenger RNA. Lewandowski et al. (p. 189) have now taken a step toward the preparation of a stripped-down synthetic ribosome analog. Their machine comprises a rotaxane—a ring threaded on a rod—in which the ring bears a pendant thiol that can pluck amino acids off the rod; the terminal nitrogen then wraps around to form a peptide bond and liberate the thiol for further reaction. The system was able to link three amino acids in order from the preassembled rod.


The ribosome builds proteins by joining together amino acids in an order determined by messenger RNA. Here, we report on the design, synthesis, and operation of an artificial small-molecule machine that travels along a molecular strand, picking up amino acids that block its path, to synthesize a peptide in a sequence-specific manner. The chemical structure is based on a rotaxane, a molecular ring threaded onto a molecular axle. The ring carries a thiolate group that iteratively removes amino acids in order from the strand and transfers them to a peptide-elongation site through native chemical ligation. The synthesis is demonstrated with ~1018 molecular machines acting in parallel; this process generates milligram quantities of a peptide with a single sequence confirmed by tandem mass spectrometry.

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