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Human health, agriculture and the environment to benefit from bioengineering project at the University of Kent

Martin Warren, Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Kent’s Department of Biosciences, has been awarded over £750,000 from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council for a study into biochemical pathways that could ultimately lead to improved health benefits for humans, as well as the development of important new technologies and products for agriculture and bioremediation (the use of plants or microorganisms to clean up pollution or contaminated material).

Elderly people, those with a vitamin B12 deficiency – a state that is associated with neurological disorders, megablastic anaemia and developmental problems in unborn babies – or anyone on a strictly vegetarian diet may benefit substantially.

This study will investigate biochemical pathways, how they are controlled and how they can be engineered to enhance the metabolic ability of the host cell. It will explore the limitations and consequences of engineering complex metabolic pathways (the chemical reactions carried out by a cell) into different organisms, such as taking the genetic software that allows bacteria to make vitamin B12 and transferring it into bacteria that are unable to make B12.

Professor Warren said: ‘Vitamin B12 is unique among the vitamins in that it is the only one whose synthesis is restricted solely to bacteria. We plan to take the genetic software that allows bacteria to make vitamin B12 and transfer it into bacteria that are unable to make B12, as well as into yeast and a higher plant, thereby conferring upon these organisms the ability to make this essential nutrient.’

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For this project Professor Warren and his team will take advantage of the latest developments and technologies in metabolic engineering.

Karen Baxter | alfa
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