Reinterpreting the Genetic Code: Non-Canonical Amino Acids in Protein Design, Evolution and Analysis

DBH 1100

ChEMS Seminar

Featuring David A. Tirrell, Ph.D.

Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering

California Institute of Technology


The genetic code, elucidated in the 1960s through the work of Nirenberg, Ochoa, and Khorana, provides a set of molecular instructions for turning DNA into proteins. What if we could change the meaning of those instructions and decide for ourselves how to interpret the genetic code? Over the last decade, cells have been outfitted with modified molecular machinery that enables them to use non-standard sets of amino acids to make proteins.  These developments are leading to new approaches to macromolecular design, protein evolution, biological imaging, and proteome-wide analysis of cellular processes.

About the Speaker:

David A. Tirrell, Ph.D., is the Ross McCollum-William H. Corcoran Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology. He was educated at MIT and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. After a brief stay with Takeo Saegusa at Kyoto University, he accepted an assistant professorship in the Department of Chemistry at Carnegie-Mellon University in the fall of 1978. Dr. Tirrell returned to Amherst in 1984 and served as Director of the Materials Research Laboratory at the University of Massachusetts before moving to Caltech in 1998.  He served as chairman of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Caltech from 1999 until 2009.  His research interests lie in design and expression of artificial proteins and in the use of non-canonical amino acids to engineer and probe protein behavior.  His contributions to these fields have been recognized by his election to the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.