MIT research say bacteria synthesize chemical compounds such as drugs, biofuels
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Engineered bacteria to synthesize drugs, biofuels

12:42 PM, 11th November 2013
bacteria synthesize chemical compounds such as drugs, biofuels
Kristala Jones Prather, Associate Professor, MIT.

CAMBRIDGE, US: Kristala Jones Prather, Associate Professor, MIT designed new ways to engineer bacteria to synthesize useful chemical compounds such as drugs and biofuels.

Have been worked at Merck, Prather worked in many different areas, including biocatalysis — the use of bacterial enzymes to perform a reaction step that cannot be done cost-effectively using traditional chemical processes. Prather would develop an enzyme-driven reaction that could take place inside a cell, then send the resulting compound back into the chemical manufacturing process.

Have worked from Merck, Prather expanded the biocatalysis strategy she had been using at Merck so that she was designing a complete synthesis — rather than just one step — that would take place entirely inside a bacterial cell.

“The concept that I was working on was quite simple: Can we take the idea of biocatalysis, of looking at these enzymes and focusing on their chemistry, and combine that with metabolic engineering? Now we are thinking about multistep pathways where we have enzymes working on substrates that they may or may not have seen in nature, and we’re combining them together in a different way so they’re all in one cell,” said Prather.

For some of the compounds Prather’s lab is working on, researchers know the natural pathway that microbes use to generate them, but want to improve on it. For others, they don’t know how the product is produced naturally and come up with their own synthesis by tinkering with existing genes and combining them in new ways. Her lab is also developing new tools for engineering bacteria and regulating which genes get turned on and off at certain times.

“That part of the work fits nicely in the realm of synthetic biology, where we’re thinking about new ways of being very purposeful about designing systems and taking advantage of modularization and parts, to be able to have more precisely engineered systems,” added Prather.

 

© MIT News

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