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Boosting bacteria's productivity


Chemical engineers have designed a genetic switch that allows them to dramatically boost bacteria’s production of useful chemicals.

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Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) chemical engineers have designed a novel genetic switch that allows them to dramatically boost bacteria’s production of useful chemicals by shutting down competing metabolic pathways in the cells.

In a paper published about the research, the researchers showed that they could significantly enhance the yield of glucaric acid, a chemical that is a precursor to products such as nylons and detergents. This genetic switch could also be easily swapped into bacteria that generate other products, the researchers say.

"We can engineer microbial cells to produce many different chemicals from simple sugars, but the cells would rather use those sugars to grow and reproduce. The challenge is to engineer a system where we get enough growth to have a productive microbial ‘chemical factory’ but not so much that we can’t channel enough of the sugars into a pathway to make large quantities of our target molecules," says Kristala Prather, an associate professor of chemical engineering at MIT and the senior author of the study.

This research was funded in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

To learn more about this research, see the NSF News From the Field story Chemical engineers boost bacteria's productivity. (Date image taken: unknown; date originally posted to NSF Multimedia Gallery: Sept. 13, 2018)

Credit: MIT News
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