A Smarter – and Synthetic – Workflow for Bioengineering
Can artificial approaches trump the conventions of traditional organic synthesis for the production of raw pharmaceutical products within cells?
Maryam Mahdi | | Quick Read
Researchers at Japan’s Kobe University have developed an integrated synthetic biology system that supports a more environmentally friendly approach to the synthesis of raw pharmaceutical products within microbes. Using a Design, Build, Test, Learn (DBTL) workflow (a pipeline for the discovery and optimization of biosynthetic pathways), the team constructed novel metabolic pathways and enzymes within cells that could be systematically optimized for the production of larger volumes of pharmaceutically relevant compounds (1).
The project was carried out in collaboration with NEDO, a Japanese organization that funds many green research projects focusing on energy and industrial development. The Kobe group is leading NEDO’s Smart Cell Project, with a goal of developing adaptable cell factories for the production of diverse industrial materials. Using biological systems to produce industrial chemicals is more sustainable when compared to traditional chemical processes, but the current range of possible bioproduction targets is limited by known enzyme functions. Their recent report shows that it is possible to engineer new enzyme functions that can expand production capabilities towards new types of valuable chemicals.
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- CJ Vavricka et al, “Mechanism-based tuning of insect 3,4-dihydroxyphenylacetaldehyde synthase for synthetic bioproduction of benzylisoquinoline alkaloids”, Nature Communications, 10:2015 (2019).