A Report on the Noncanonical Amino Acids (NcAAs) Symposium

Noncanonical amino acids (NcAAs):
Tools for biological and biophysical investigations,
Paris, France, 21–22 October 2019.

On October 21-22, 2019, Sorbonne University hosted the first international symposium which focuses on the emergent use of “Non-Canonical Amino Acids” (ncAAs) in peptide and protein science.  The conference was held in the University of Pierre and Marie Curie campus, Paris. Nearly 100 researchers from France and ten other countries (Belgium, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Poland, Finland, United Kingdom, Finland, Ukraine and USA) attended the meeting and shared their latest developments of ncAAs as well as their applications to biological questions.

This symposium was co-organized by the Sorbonne University, the Institute of Advanced studies of the University of Cergy-Pontoise (IAS) and the French Peptides and Protein Group (GFPP). The scientific committee included Dr. Frederic Bihel (Strasbourg University), Pr. Thierry Brigaud and Dr. Gregory Chaume (Cergy-Pointoise University), Dr. Elodie Laine, Pr. Olivier Lequin, Dr. Emeric Miclet and Dr. Shixin Ye-Lehmann (Sorbonne University). Both young and established researchers of a variety of backgrounds from chemistry, biochemistry, biology and biophysics were brought together so as to discuss a wide range of topics from synthetic methodologies to applications in biology and biophysics. A total of 19 oral communications and 12 posters was presented during this two-days meeting.

The ability to introduce ncAA into peptides and proteins with precision through either chemical synthesis or genetic code reprograming has allowed the sampling of new functional space unavailable via the 20 natural amino acids.  The symposium started with the section focused on peptides led by a keynote lecture given by Prof. Helma Wennemers (ETH, Switzerland) who presented peptides with incorporated proline-derivatives as templates for the controlled formation of novel supramolecular assemblies and biomaterials. It was concluded by a section focused on site-specific labeling of proteins to investigate their structural function relationship, with Prof. Thomas P. Sakmar (Rockefeller University, USA) presenting the keynote lecture on the genetic code expansion technology to probe the functionality of cryptic ligand-binding pockets in GPCRs for drug discovery. The program also included three other keynote lectures given by international experts in the field: Prof. Dafydd Jones (Cardiff University), Dr. Muriel Gondry (University of Paris-Saclay) and Prof. Irene Coin (Leipzig University).

In a convivial and engaged atmosphere, the interdisciplinary program covered different aspects of ncAA, from methodological developments in solid phase peptide synthesis with fluorinated amino acids, cell-free expression and engineered host strains or aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase engineering to enable genetic reprograming, as well as applications in the field of chemical biology, medical chemistry, biomaterial science and biophysical studies. Last but not least, exciting developments towards drug discovery using ncAA technologies were revealed. In summary, following some extremely positive feedback, this symposium spanned a diversity of topics whilst synergizing the disciplines of Chemistry & Biology within the world of Peptide Science.

The organizers would like thank the Sorbonne University for hosting the meeting and providing the center of Paris as an attraction hub for scientists. We are also extremely grateful to the students who provided invaluable assistance on the day including, Soha Abou Ibrahim, Edward Chalouhi, Guy Gouarin and Diego Zea. The meeting was a great success thanks in particular to Eliane Moulinie and Karine Gherdi who helped with organization and logistics and made sure that conditions remained comfortable for the attendees.

The organizers would also like to thank their academic partners: the Chemistry and Biology departments of Sorbonne University, the Michem Labex, the Institute of Advanced Studies of the Cergy-Pontoise University, the Protein and Peptide Science Group (GFPP), the EPS as well as the industrial sponsors Bachem, Iris Biotech, Eurisotop, RNA Smart Health and SiChem for their generous financial support.

Participants of the NcAAs Symposium

Contributed by Grégory Chaume and Emeric Miclet

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