Scientists have demonstrated that – in labs – microbes can be used as tiny biological factories to produce fuels, pharmaceutical drugs and other commodities from renewable resources. But achieving output on a commercially viable scale has proven elusive. A key barrier has been so-called cofactors – biocatalysts that spur enzymatic activity in cells – as these molecules are both expensive and difficult to manipulate. Engineers at UCI and UC Davis, however, have created an artificial, computationally derived cofactor, a charge carrier that precisely controls the flow of electrons in bacteria cells. The work is the subject of a study published recently in Nature Chemical Biology. “We have established a technology to make metabolism more easily understandable and engineerable,” said co-author Han Li, assistant professor of chemical & biomolecular engineering at UCI. “Since there is a need to draw electrons in order to make the vast majority of value-added products, the technology that we developed might serve as a universal tool in metabolic engineering.” The researchers were able to show that the system can facilitate diverse electron-exchange chemistries resulting in metabolism to support cell growth. “This work demonstrates efficient utilization of a non-canonical cofactor in biocatalysis and metabolic pathway design,” Li said. The project was funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.
UCI engineering team creates biocatalyst for microbial production of useful commodities
December 10, 2019