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Bacteria breakthrough marks new era in cellular design and biofuel production

The team has created nano-tubes that generate a scaffold inside bacteria.

11 December 2017

Scientists at the universities of Kent and Bristol have built a miniature scaffold inside bacteria that can bolster cellular productivity, providing the foundation for a new era of cellular protein engineering and biofuel production.

Globally, there is a growing demand for the agricultural or renewable production of biofuels and other commodity chemicals, to enable a move away from fossil fuels.

The research, led by Professor Martin Warren at Kent’s School of Biosciences, working with Professor Dek Woolfson, Director of the Bristol BioDesign Institute, and Professor Paul Verkade from Bristol’s School of Biochemistry, is published today in Nature Chemical Biology and has implications for the next generation of biofuel production.

The team has created nano-tubes that generate a scaffold inside bacteria. With as many as a thousand tubes fitting into each cell, the tubular scaffold can be used to increase the bacteria’s efficiency to make commodities.

The researchers designed protein molecules and developed techniques to allow E. coli to make long tubes that contain a coupling device to which other specific components can be attached. A production line of enzymes could then be arranged along the tubes, generating efficient internal factories for the coordinated production of important chemicals. Uitilising a form of molecular velcro to hold the components together, the team added one part of the fastener to the tube-forming protein and the other to specific enzymes to show that the enzymes can attach to the tubes.

By applying this new technology to enzymes required for the production of ethanol - an important biofuel - the researchers were able to increase alcohol production by over 200 per cent.

The research was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and was the result of a collaborative project between the University of Kent, University College London and the University of Bristol

Further information

Engineered synthetic scaffolds for organizing proteins within the bacterial cytoplasm is published today (11 December) in the journal Nature Chemical Biology.

About Bristol BioDesign Institute:

Bristol BioDesign Institute (BBI) places the University of Bristol among the forerunners of synthetic biology research, teaching and innovation.

The institute brings together BrisSynBio, a UK Synthetic Biology Research Centre, and the SynBio Centre for Doctoral Training.

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