Blog #3: A Novel Unnatural Amino Acid

In my last blog post, I described the process of working through a multi-step synthesis for organic compounds. It’s definitely a long process in which you come across unexpected roadblocks, but the excitement that comes from an experiment that works is thoroughly satisfying. I spent the last few weeks of my research attempting to finish my second profluorophore, often starting over to use larger quantities of reactants after I had perfected some of the reactions. Sadly, I did not finish my second profluorophore during the summer, but I am in a great place to continue working on it in the fall. I learned so much about what works and what does not work when creating this molecule, and I am now extremely familiar with all of the instruments and techniques used in typical organic reactions.

Although work on my second profluorophore has not yet come to fruition, I saw some success in another project I worked on during my last two weeks: the creation of a novel unnatural amino acid. A major area of research in my professor’s lab is the creation of unnatural amino acids and their application as biological and therapeutic tools. Synthesizing this new amino acid actually proved to be simpler than making the second profluorophore, as there were only about 3 steps involved, the first of which has been performed many, many times in our lab. Though I do not know exactly how this new amino acid will be further used, I’m excited by the prospect of learning how to express it in a protein.

To summarize my research for the summer, I successfully synthesized a profluorophore–which will be used for fluorescent tagging–and a new unnatural amino acid–which can be expressed in proteins via an evolved synthetase. Though I did not finish the synthesis of my second profluorophore, I plan to finish it in the fall.

When I return to working in the lab this fall, I will be much more competent than I was last spring. This, in my opinion, is probably more valuable than the molecules I made. I will be able to pick up right where I left off without wasting any time and without needing constant supervision from older lab members. I am extremely happy that I worked in the lab the summer after my freshman year, because I can use everything I learned to conduct meaningful research for three more full years.






  1. Congratulations on your success! I’m curious what these proflourophores are used for. Is it to identify when a specific protein is being produced?

  2. krhopkins says:

    Zack, your work with organic synthesis is fascinating! I am especially curious about the greater implications of developing new unnatural amino acids. What exactly is biotherapy and in what instances would the use of unnatural amino acids have a significant impact? More specifically, how does one go about making an amino acid? I remember you saying that you often had to go back and restart a reaction with a greater amount of reactants. Therefore, is creating an unnatural amino acid an efficient process with respect to both time and money? I hope your continued research in the fall goes smoothly. Best of luck, my friend!