Navigation Links
Caltech engineers build mini drug-producing biofactories in yeast

PASADENA, Calif.-- Researchers at the California Institute of Technology have developed a novel way to churn out large quantities of drugs, including antiplaque toothpaste additives, antibiotics, nicotine, and even morphine, using mini biofactories--in yeast.

A paper describing the research, now available online, will be featured as the cover article of the September issue of Nature Chemical Biology.

Christina D. Smolke, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at Caltech, along with graduate student Kristy Hawkins, genetically modified common baker's yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) so that it contained the genes for several plant enzymes. The enzymes allow the yeast to produce a chemical called reticuline, which is a precursor for many different classes of benzylisoquinoline alkaloid (BIA) molecules. The BIA molecules are a large group of chemically intricate compounds, such as morphine, nicotine, and codeine, which are naturally produced by plants.

BIA molecules exhibit a wide variety of pharmacological activities, including antispasmodic effects, pain relief, and hair growth acceleration. Other BIAs have shown anticancer, antioxidant, antimalarial, and anti-HIV potential.

"There are estimated to be thousands of members in the BIA family, and having a source for obtaining large quantities of specific BIA molecules is critical to gaining access to the diverse functional activities provided by these molecules," says Smolke, whose lab focuses on using biology as a technology for the synthesis of new chemicals, materials, and products. However, the natural plant sources of BIAs accumulate only a small number of the molecules, usually "end products" like morphine and codeine that, while valuable, can't be turned into other compounds, thus limiting the availability of useful new products.

To their reticuline-producing yeast, Smolke and Hawkins added the genes for other enzymes, from both plants and humans, which allowed the yeast to efficiently generate large quantities of the precursors for sanguinarine, a toothpaste additive with antiplaque properties; berberine, an antibiotic; and morphine.

The researchers are now in the process of engineering their yeast so that they will turn these precursor molecules into the final, pharmacologically useful molecules. "But even the intermediate molecules that we are producing can exhibit important and valuable activities, and a related area of research will be to examine more closely the pharmacological activities of these metabolites and derivatives now that pure sources can be obtained," says Smolke, who estimates that her system could be used for the large-scale manufacture of BIA compounds in one to three years.

Smolke and Hawkins also plan to extend their research to the production of BIAs that don't normally exist in nature.

"If one thinks of these molecules as encoding functions that are of interest to us, the ability to produce nonnatural alkaloids will provide access to more diverse functions and activities. By expanding to nonnatural alkaloids, we can search for molecules that provide enhanced activities, new activities, and not be limited by the activities that have been selected for in nature," says Smolke.

"Our work has the potential to result in new therapeutic drugs for a broad range of diseases. This work also provides an exciting example of the increased complexity with which we are engineering biological systems to address global societal challenges," she says.

Contact: Kathy Svitil
California Institute of Technology

Related biology news :

1. UNC, Caltech research finds further evidence for genetic contribution to autism
2. Caltech researchers find dual-use sexual attraction and population-control chemicals in nematodes
3. Caltech scientists awarded $20 million to Power the Planet
4. Caltech neurobiologists discover individuals who hear movement
5. Bioengineers at University of Pennsylvania devise nanoscale system to measure cellular forces
6. Princeton engineers develop low-cost recipe for patterning microchips
7. UCR engineers to develop new tool to measure how environmental exposures affect health
8. Boston University biomedical engineers find chink in bacterias armor
9. CU researcher engineers sorghum that grows in poisonous soils
10. Institution of Chemical Engineers chooses Elsevier as publishing partner
11. Engineers study brain folding in higher mammals
Post Your Comments:
(Date:4/15/2016)...  A new partnership announced today will help ... in a fraction of the time it takes ... life insurance policies to consumers without requiring inconvenient ... Diagnostics, rapid testing (A1C, Cotinine and HIV) and ... weight, pulse, BMI, and activity data) available at ...
(Date:3/31/2016)... , March 31, 2016 ... ) ("LegacyXChange" or the "Company") LegacyXChange is ... users of its soon to be launched online site ... ) will also provide potential shareholders ... of DNA technology to an industry that is notorious ...
(Date:3/22/2016)... , March 22, 2016 ... report "Electronic Sensors Market for Consumer Industry by Type ... Others), Application (Communication & IT, Entertainment, Home ... Global Forecast to 2022", published by MarketsandMarkets, ... expected to reach USD 26.76 Billion by ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:6/23/2016)... ... June 23, 2016 , ... Charm Sciences, Inc. is pleased ... received AOAC Research Institute approval 061601. , “This is another AOAC-RI approval of ... Salter, Vice President of Regulatory and Industrial Affairs. “The Peel Plate methods perform ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... , June, 23, 2016  The Biodesign Challenge ... envision new ways to harness living systems and biotechnology, ... Art (MoMA) in New York City ... 130 participating students, showcased projects at MoMA,s Celeste Bartos ... Paola Antonelli , MoMA,s senior curator of architecture and ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... (PRWEB) , ... June 23, 2016 , ... ... today announced the launch of the Supplyframe Design Lab . Located in ... to explore the future of how hardware projects are designed, built and brought ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... ... ... In a new case report published today in STEM CELLS Translational Medicine, doctors ... being treated for breast cancer benefitted from an injection of stem cells derived from ... frequent side effect of cancer treatment. , Lymphedema refers to the swelling ...
Breaking Biology Technology: