The second Genetic Code Expansion (GCE) Conference, hosted by the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at Oregon State, August 9-11, 2018, attracted scientists from around the world to campus eager to share their research at the frontiers of this rapidly growing interdisciplinary field. Their research encompasses both fundamental research into the biology of life as well as drug discovery and material science with the aim of enhancing life forms and curing disease.
Genetic Code Expansion enables researchers to modify the genetic code of an organism so that it can produce proteins with new chemical functionality in vivo or in vitro, with the ultimate goal of engineering living systems for useful purposes. Researchers can also use GCE to add tracking elements to existing proteins in order to probe protein structure and function within organisms.
This year’s conference attracted 112 participants from academia, industry and research institutions across the United States and from 11 countries, including Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan, China, France, Israel, Denmark, Korea, New Zealand, Austria and Australia. The conference was marked by a strong industrial presence, signaling the many burgeoning applications of GCE tools and technology. Special sessions were led by Addgene, a world-leading nonprofit plasmid repository committed to making GCE tools more accessible; and Bachem, a global technology company focused on peptide chemistry that services the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. Key speakers included GCE pioneers and leaders such as Tom Sakmar from Rockefeller University, Jason Chin from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England and Hiroaki Suga from the University of Tokyo.
The conference was organized by Ryan Mehl, associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics at OSU, and senior instructor Kari van Zee. The conference chairs were E. James Petersson, associate professor of chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania and Carsten Schultz, Chair of the Physiology and Pharmacology Department at Oregon Health and Sciences University. Mehl is the director of OSU’s Unnatural Protein Facility, the first laboratory of its kind which provides researchers full access to current non-canonical amino acid protein production capability for academic studies.
“I was ecstatic at the high level of the scientific talks and the sense of community that has been generated over the last four years,” said Mehl. “I could not be happier with the extensive support from the community on building a national center to help continue developing and distributing GCE technology.”
The conference was sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the American Chemical Society, the University of Pennsylvania and OSU’s College of Science, Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics and the Unnatural Protein Facility as well as many other industry partners.
Participants voted to hold the third biennial GCE conference at Peking University in Beijing, China in 2020 and then return to Oregon State in 2022.
2018 Genetic Code Expansion Workshop: Theoretical and practical knowledge to apply to existing and emerging GCE technology
The GCE conference was preceded by the fourth annual GCE Workshop, a week-long opportunity for participants to bring their own experiments to Oregon State’s Unnatural Protein Facility, which provides current GCE technology as well as theoretical and practical expertise from instructors Ryan Mehl, Kari van Zee, OSU graduate students Joe Porter and Riley Bednar, John Lueck, an assistant professor with joint appointments in the Departments of Pharmacology and Physiology in addition to Neurology at the University of Rochester, and John Perona, a professor of environmental biochemistry at Portland State University.
Recent advances in GCE technology added a new dimension to this year’s workshop: the ability to incorporate not just one but two different non-canonical amino acids into one protein. Graduate student Riley Bednar discussed this new breakthrough and other results from evolving genetic code machinery.
Nineteen attendees from academia, industry and research organizations from around the world were delighted by the workshop and how it catalyzed their own research projects.
“Bar none this is the most experimentally robust workshop I’ve seen,” wrote one participant after the event. “The labs are well equipped and the experiments start from the ground up, working with actual proteins of interest in the individuals’ work.”
A second participant echoed that sentiment and those from many others saying, “This was the most useful and worthwhile event I’ve participated in during my graduate education. I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone interested in GCE technology.”
Read about last year’s workshop, which was well received by participants.