A de novo enzyme catalyzes a life-sustaining reaction in Escherichia coli.
Producing novel enzymes that are catalytically active in vitro and biologically functional in vivo is a key goal of synthetic biology. Here we describe Syn-F4, the first de novo protein that meets both criteria. Purified Syn-F4 hydrolyzes the siderophore ferric enterobactin, and expression of Syn-F4 allows an inviable strain of Escherichia coli to grow in iron-limited medium. These findings demonstrate that entirely new sequences can provide life-sustaining enzymatic functions in living organisms.