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Chemical Engineer Kao Explores Antibiotic Synthesis With DNA Chips

sed company Maxygen, provides Kao with a second advantage--speed. After one round of generating mutants with transposons, only a handful of the many mutants generated will likely increase antibiotic yields. Shuffling creates combinations of all mutants that originally generated increased yields--similar to genetic recombination--and produces sequences with multiple mutations more quickly.

Think of a genome as a deck of cards, and inducing a beneficial mutation as slipping in a joker. It's easy to see which decks have jokers--or which strains produce more antibiotics. Imagine mixing and then separating ten decks that all have two jokers each. Do it with enough replications and you'll get a deck with 20 jokers--or a bacterium with 20 beneficial mutations.

"In one year we should be able to generate a high producer that's equivalent to 20 years of work with the traditional method, and then we can study the identifiable mutations," Kao said.

Whether she's studying existing mutants or creating her own, Kao's main interest lies in learning how to manipulate cells to do what she wants. The family of soil bacteria she focuses on, the actinomycetes, produces thousands of bioactive molecules, with many more discoveries sure to come.

"When new molecules are discovered to be made by species of this family, the research we do will hopefully be used to quickly make mutant strains that make a lot more of it," she said. "No drug company wants to wait 20 years to release a new antibiotic."


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Source:Stanford University


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