Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Optimizing Microbe Factories

10.07.2013
Max Planck and Fraunhofer scientists team up to develop efficient biosynthetic processes for the production of pharmaceutical and industrial ingredients.

A joint research project of the Max Planck and Fraunhofer Societies has received substantial financial support enabling scientists to open the door for new discoveries with immediate industrial applications.


Model plant Arabidopsis thaliana in a tube.
Marion Rehers / Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology (IME)

In the next three years, researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology, Aachen, and the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, Jena, will join forces for a common project: the optimization of the MEP pathway. Microbes and plant chloroplasts use this metabolic route to produce a diversity of active compounds including many substances humans have been employing as pharmaceuticals, crop protection compounds and industrial materials for thousands of years.

However, the purification or chemical synthesis of these compounds requires extensive efforts. Therefore the goal of the joint project is to utilize bacteria with an optimized MEP pathway to improve the biosynthetic yield of various natural products.

Close relatives: chloroplasts and prokaryotes

The Fraunhofer / Max Planck cooperation is actually based on a natural event that most likely occurred many millions of years ago: In the course of evolution protozoa absorbed other unicellular organisms, such as ancestors of prokaryotic cyanobacteria. According to this theory, the result of this “endosymbiosis” is the development of plants; the cells of all our plant species contain chloroplasts that emerged from ancestral cyanobacteria and still have substantial similarities to free-living prokaryotes.

A few years ago, plant scientists discovered that chloroplasts contain a metabolic pathway which is also found in prokaryotes such as bacteria, that leads to the production of many so-called terpenoid metabolites: the 2C-methyl-D-erythritol 4-phosphate (MEP) pathway, a finding which confirmed the endosymbiont theory. Intermediates of glycolysis are used in the pathway for the multistep synthesis of molecular monomers that consist of five carbon atoms each. These five carbon units can then be combined in many different ways in order to form chlorophyll, carotenoids, cytokinins, sterols and a multitude of other terpenoids. The production of some plant toxins used as defenses against pests is also based on the MEP biosynthetic pathway.

Vitamins and aromas, pharmaceuticals and plant protection compounds: The production of many valuable natural substances is still difficult and expensive.

The discovery of many biologically-active substances in plants and bacteria has proven beneficial to mankind. However, their isolation, purification and processing from natural sources is not only extremely laborious, but also expensive. Chemical synthesis is also difficult or even impossible because these substances usually have complex carbon skeletons that are hard to make in pure forms. For example, the purification of the elementary substance isoprene from mineral oil − a process which is still commonly used today − is neither environmentally friendly, nor economically sustainable. Stefan Jennewein, a scientist at the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology, as well as Louwrance Wright and Jonathan Gershenzon from the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology therefore decided to study the MEP pathway, a metabolic pathway involved in the biosynthesis of the isoprene units, in more detail. They aim to manipulate this pathway in a way that will facilitate a more efficient production of the pharmaceutically relevant substances by using metabolically modified bacteria. The Max Planck scientists will study the regulation of the MEP pathway in chloroplasts of the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana to learn the principles of metabolic control, whereas Stefan Jennewein’s part is to create bacterial strains of the species Escherichia coli and Clostridium ljungdahlii which will be able to produce the required substances in high yield once their MEP pathways have been optimized.

Optimized MEP pathway: better yield, better quality

Thanks to a 1.6 million EUR funding for both institutes in the next three years, the regulation of the seven consecutive enzymatic steps, the levels of the metabolic intermediates, and the transcription of the corresponding genes will be studied. The scientists will use transgenic plants and bacteria in which selected enzymes will be either silenced or overexpressed in order to study potential key roles of particular biosynthetic steps compared to those in untransformed organisms. The researchers also plan to transfer alternative or additional genes to the two bacterial species Escherichia coli and Clostridium ljungdahlii. Applied in high-volume fermenters, MEP pathway-optimized microorganisms should be able to produce higher quantities of the desired substances.

MEP pathway-optimized bacteria are also interesting for their use in chemical industries, especially in the context of processing so-called syngases. Syngas is a mixture of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and hydrogen that often accumulates in power plants and steel mills. MEP pathway-optimized Clostridium bacteria with a more efficient isoprene synthase could metabolize these three gases and form isoprene, which may be used to produce a special rubber. Alternatively, syngas could be an intermediate for the production of biofuels. Such a bacteria-based process would be superior to the conventional Fischer-Tropsch synthesis because unpurified syngas could be applied to the fermenters. The Fischer-Tropsch process, on the other hand, which is based on metal catalysis, requires highly purified syngas, and furthermore is highly energy consuming.

Drugs against malaria and cancer

The elucidation of the crucial regulatory steps of the MEP pathway may eventually contribute to the development and production of pharmaceuticals in human medicine, for example against cancer or malaria. The anti-cancer drug taxol and artemisinin, used for the treatment of malaria, could be produced by bacteria whose MEP pathway has been successfully modified. [JWK/AO]

Further information:

Prof. Dr. Jonathan Gershenzon, MPI for Chemical Ecology, gershenzon@ice.mpg.de, +49 3641 57 1301

Dr. Stefan Jennewein, Fraunhofer Institut für Molekularbiologie und Angewandte Ökologie, stefan.jennewein@ime.fraunhofer.de, +49 241 6085 12120

Contact and picture requests:

Angela Overmeyer M.A., Tel. 03641 - 57 2110, overmeyer@ice.mpg.de
or Download via http://www.ice.mpg.de/ext/735.html

Angela Overmeyer | idw
Further information:
http://www.ice.mpg.de/ext/1036.html?&L=0

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Bare bones: Making bones transparent
27.04.2017 | California Institute of Technology

nachricht Link Discovered between Immune System, Brain Structure and Memory
26.04.2017 | Universität Basel

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Bare bones: Making bones transparent

27.04.2017 | Life Sciences

Study offers new theoretical approach to describing non-equilibrium phase transitions

27.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

From volcano's slope, NASA instrument looks sky high and to the future

27.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>