Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Students Coax Yeast Cells to Add Vitamins to Bread

27.10.2011
Any way you slice it, bread that contains critical nutrients could help combat severe malnutrition in impoverished regions.

That is the goal of a group of Johns Hopkins University undergraduate students who are using synthetic biology to enhance common yeast so that it yields beta carotene, the orange substance that gives carrots their color. When it’s eaten, beta-carotene turns into vitamin A.

The students’ project is the university’s entry in iGEM, the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition. After a regional judging earlier this month, the undergraduates’ project, called VitaYeast, has advanced to the iGEM finals, scheduled for Nov. 5-7 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the annual iGEM contest, students from around the world present projects based on synthetic biology, a burgeoning field in which researchers manipulate small bits of DNA and other biological material to make cells carry out new tasks.

The Johns Hopkins participants say that no matter what happens at the iGEM finals, they will continue to tout their enhanced bread as a relatively simple way to help hundreds of thousands of people who are suffering from malnutrition.

Team member Arjun Khakhar, a junior biomedical engineering major, grew up in Bombay, India, where he saw widespread poverty and malnutrition. “The major problem in developing countries right now is not that people are hungry and starving because they don’t have enough food,” he said. “What people don’t have now is the [right type of] food that they need to survive. Vital nutrients like vitamins are just missing from their diets, because they can’t afford fruits and vegetables. That’s what we wanted to provide through VitaYeast.”

Producing a new food to save malnourished people around the globe may sound like an audacious goal for a group of 15 to 20 students who haven’t yet picked up their college diplomas. But Arjun doesn’t think so. “How do I get the idea in my mind that I want to change the world?” he said. “I would ask, How can you not have the idea that you want to change the world?”

To curb global malnutrition, Arjun and his teammates envisioned an enhanced starter dough that could be shared easily and cheaply among large groups of impoverished people. The bread baked from this dough could avert health problems that occur when vitamins and other nutrients are missing from their diets. Such health problems can be serious. The World Health Organization has described vitamin A deficiency as the leading cause of preventable blindness in children.

Yeast, which helps make bread rise, does not normally produce vitamins. To make this happen, the students, representing a variety of science majors, had to genetically tweak the single-cell microbes. The team members figured out how to add to yeast cells certain DNA sequences that triggered a series of biochemical reactions that produced beta carotene. They presented that development at the iGEM regional contest and are continuing to work on yeast that also produces Vitamin C, another crucial nutrient needed in impoverished areas.

As they worked on the VitaYeast project, the students were advised by Johns Hopkins faculty members, including Jef Boeke, a leading yeast expert who is a professor of molecular biology and genetics at the School of Medicine. “One of the great things about iGEM teams, which are mostly made up of undergraduates, is that those students, frankly, will not believe that something is impossible,” Boeke said. “If you tell them that something is impossible, they will go off and do it. I find that to be very exciting.”

Working in lab space provided by Boeke and other faculty members, the iGEM students solved the science challenges and produced samples of their enhanced dough. But would VitaYeast yield bread that looks and smells good enough to eat? As all good cooks know, the proof is in the pudding -- or, in this case, the bread basket. To find out, the students purchased a bread-making machine, found a simple recipe online and turned their lab into a makeshift kitchen. “We wanted to simulate the process that a regular person might go through to bake bread,” said team member Steffi Liu, a junior biomedical engineering major from Edison, N.J. “The only thing that’s different in the recipe is that we substituted our vitamin A yeast for the normal dry packaged yeast.”

The resulting bread, she said, “looks exactly the same as normal bread. Definitely the same smell! The lab smelled amazing after we baked the bread. Everybody wanted a bite of it. But obviously we can’t do that.”

Because the lab bread contains a genetically engineered ingredient that has not undergone safety testing or received approval from government regulators, the students are not permitted to eat it. But they are encouraged by the tempting aroma and traditional breadlike texture and appearance.

In recent years, some genetically engineered foods have been rejected by malnourished people merely because they did not look, smell or taste like the familiar food staples. The Johns Hopkins students are banking on greater success, partly because they are thinking small. “VitaYeast is a tiny component – it gets killed in the bread,” said Noah Young, a senior biomedical engineering major from Irvine, Calif. “We’re not genetically modifying the wheat. We’re not genetically modifying the flour or the water. We’re genetically modifying something like 1 percent of the bread recipe. When you bake VitaYeast bread and you look at it, it looks like normal bread.”

As part of the project, team member Ashan Veerakumar, a senior neuroscience major from Toronto, will survey Baltimore area residents about whether they would eat genetically modified food, particularly if it could improve their health. “The thing we’re trying to find out here,” Ashan said, “is whether our project is something the public will accept.”

He and some of the other team members are also looking for outside funding to continue pushing the VitaYeast project forward. Yet before VitaYeast bread can make its way to malnourished people, it must overcome many hurdles, including animal testing and rigorous regulatory reviews.

Still, faculty adviser Boeke is not betting against his student scientists. “Could this notion of releasing a genetically modified organism in a Third World country ever happen?” he asked. “Personally, I think the answer is yes.” Some of the iGEM students, Boeke said, “were ready to rush off and do it right away, and we had to restrain their enthusiasm.” Another faculty member, who is a bioethicist, was called in to urge the students to be more patient in pressing toward their goal. “She’s helped the students understand what the steps are needed to get to that point,” Boeke said. “That will certainly be a multiyear process, at best. But I think it could happen.”

Video interviews and color digital images of the student inventors are available; contact Phil Sneiderman.

Related link:
VitaYeast Web site: http://2011.igem.org/Team:Johns_Hopkins

Phil Sneiderman | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.jhu.edu
http://2011.igem.org/Team:Johns_Hopkins

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Bacteria as pacemaker for the intestine
22.11.2017 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel

nachricht Researchers identify how bacterium survives in oxygen-poor environments
22.11.2017 | Columbia University

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Nanoparticles help with malaria diagnosis – new rapid test in development

The WHO reports an estimated 429,000 malaria deaths each year. The disease mostly affects tropical and subtropical regions and in particular the African continent. The Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC teamed up with the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME and the Institute of Tropical Medicine at the University of Tübingen for a new test method to detect malaria parasites in blood. The idea of the research project “NanoFRET” is to develop a highly sensitive and reliable rapid diagnostic test so that patient treatment can begin as early as possible.

Malaria is caused by parasites transmitted by mosquito bite. The most dangerous form of malaria is malaria tropica. Left untreated, it is fatal in most cases....

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Corporate coworking as a driver of innovation

22.11.2017 | Business and Finance

PPPL scientists deliver new high-resolution diagnostic to national laser facility

22.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Quantum optics allows us to abandon expensive lasers in spectroscopy

22.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>