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    Rights: The University of Waikato
    Published 5 December 2008 Referencing Hub media

    Directed evolution can make proteins, like enzymes, which have a new or improved function, but when would we need these enzymes?


    David Ackerley (Victoria University, Wellington): Directed evolution that I would think of in a lab is very similar to artificial breeding, the difference being that, rather than selecting for traits in an animal that you can see, we’re selecting for just one gene, which encodes one enzyme that we are interested in. We can actually mutate those genes randomly. We can select for just the ones we want, which are now producing enzymes that are better able to do the specific job that we want, and we can use sexual recombination to kind of mix up improved enzymes to try and get really rapid improvement in genes and enzymes.

    The whole artificial selection is very arbitrary, and that gives us the power to improve qualities that we want. Which may be things that would never arise in nature and that’s actually very pertinent to the work that we are doing because, at a molecular level, you can select for enzymes that do really useful things that nature would have no use for at all, like be better laundry detergents or these kind of things.