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A digital test for toxic genes
Date:1/29/2014

Like little factories, cells metabolize raw materials and convert them into chemical compounds. Biotechnologists take advantage of this ability, using microorganisms to produce pharmaceuticals and biofuels. To boost output to an industrial scale and create new types of chemicals, biotechnologists manipulate the microorganisms' natural metabolism, often by "overexpressing" certain genes in the cell. But such metabolic engineering is hampered by the fact that many genes become toxic to the cell when overexpressed.

Now, Allon Wagner, Uri Gophna, and Eytan Ruppin of Tel Aviv University's Blavatnik School of Computer Science and Department of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology, along with researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science, have developed a computer algorithm that predicts which metabolic genes are lethal to cells when overexpressed. The findings, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could help guide metabolic engineering to produce new chemicals in more cost-effective ways.

"In the lab, biotechnologists often determine which genes can be overexpressed using trial and error," said Wagner. "We can save them a lot of time and money by ruling out certain possibilities and highlighting other, more promising ones."

Gaining an EDGE

When metabolic genes are expressed, the genetic information they contain is converted into proteins, which catalyze the chemical reactions necessary for life. Overexpression means that greater-than-normal amounts of proteins are produced. Biotechnologists typically overexpress native genes of an industrial microorganism to boost a certain metabolic pathway in the cell, thus increasing the production of desired compounds. Sometimes they overexpress foreign genes genes transferred from other organisms in an industrial microbe to build new metabolic pathways and allow it to synthesize new compounds. But they often find that their efforts
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Contact: George Hunka
ghunka@aftau.org
212-742-9070
American Friends of Tel Aviv University
Source:Eurekalert

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