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The PCR method


Evolutionary technology
Manfred Eigen Scientist
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If you can make something which you cannot calculate, which you cannot even imagine, but you give a problem and let nature solve the problem via evolution pharmaca not via calculating because its much too complex for anybody to do such a calculation, but to find safely the optimal solution for the problem – that would be a wonderful principle in technology, to make new pharmaca, to make new proteins. To give you a practical example, often you will not make new proteins de novo, you will make them from other ones, as nature did so. The many enzymes which are in us were not all de novo inventions of nature, but whenever a new problem came it took one of the enzymes there and found which one is closest to it and optimised it for that special purpose. So there is... the whole complexity can only be explained this way. Now, we would do the same in technology. For instance we talked about proteases, enzymes which cut protein bonds, well if you have any napkin which is...

[Q] Has some egg from the breakfast on it?

Yes, egg from breakfast, often some lipid or protein and so, now the industry is trying to develop enzymes which degrade this. Of course you would say... let's take the proteases... yes, but trypsin and chymotrypsin are proteins which work in our bodies, so their optimal temperature is 37°C. But in a washing machine, a laundry machine, works perhaps at 80°C and those enzymes would simply be decomposed at high temperature, so develop new enzymes which have their optimal temperature at 80°C, is a typical evolutionary problem. You cannot calculate what you have to do in order to make such a protein, you just adapt your system by evolutionary methods.

[Q] So the problem is to solve it in the way nature does just by very tricky tinkering.


[Q] You start out from a good position, and then...

For instance, you take our evolution machine, as in the experiment I have described. But, of course, technology nowadays has much proceeded, so we can really consider it now a technological problem, and you might ask what do we have to do with our evolution experiments in order to make a technology out of it? I should say that we started very early...

[Q] What means early... what year?

Late '70s, early '80s, to propose this new technology. And meanwhile many laboratories have gone into the field, especially in the United States.

[Q] But proposing at that time meant also that experiments were successfully running at your laboratory?

The experiments were successful and we say now we can go on and build machines, which are technological. But I should mention some of these laboratories in the United States: that's Jerry Joyce at The Scripps Institute is doing beautiful work there; Jack Szostak is doing wonderful work; Tuerk and Gold try to use a method for binding certain selection via binding to certain substances. So evolutionary technology is nowadays a...

[Q] A technology used worldwide...

A well established and cherished principle.

Nobel Prize winning German biophysical chemist, Manfred Eigen (1927-2019), was best known for his work on fast chemical reactions and his development of ways to accurately measure these reactions down to the nearest billionth of a second. He published over 100 papers with topics ranging from hydrogen bridges of nucleic acids to the storage of information in the central nervous system.

Listeners: Ruthild Winkler-Oswatitch

Ruthild Winkler-Oswatitsch is the eldest daughter of the Austrian physicist Klaus Osatitsch, an internationally renowned expert in gas dynamics, and his wife Hedwig Oswatitsch-Klabinus. She was born in the German university town of Göttingen where her father worked at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Aerodynamics under Ludwig Prandtl. After World War II she was educated in Stockholm, Sweden, where her father was then a research scientist and lecturer at the Royal Institute of Technology.

In 1961 Ruthild Winkler-Oswatitsch enrolled in Chemistry at the Technical University of Vienna where she received her PhD in 1969 with a dissertation on "Fast complex reactions of alkali ions with biological membrane carriers". The experimental work for her thesis was carried out at the Max Planck Institute for Physical Chemistry in Göttingen under Manfred Eigen.

From 1971 to the present Ruthild Winkler-Oswatitsch has been working as a research scientist at the Max Planck Institute in Göttingen in the Department of Chemical Kinetics which is headed by Manfred Eigen. Her interest was first focused on an application of relaxation techniques to the study of fast biological reactions. Thereafter, she engaged in theoretical studies on molecular evolution and developed game models for representing the underlying chemical proceses. Together with Manfred Eigen she wrote the widely noted book, "Laws of the Game" (Alfred A. Knopf Inc. 1981 and Princeton University Press, 1993). Her more recent studies were concerned with comparative sequence analysis of nucleic acids in order to find out the age of the genetic code and the time course of the early evolution of life. For the last decade she has been successfully establishing industrial applications in the field of evolutionary biotechnology.

Tags: evolution experiments, trypsin, chymotrypsin, biotechnology, proteases, Gerald Francis 'Jerry' Joyce, Jerry Joyce, Jack William Szostak, Larry Gold, Lawrence M Gold, Craig Tuerk

Duration: 4 minutes, 19 seconds

Date story recorded: July 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008