A new method to obtain the commercially valuable, non-natural chemical compound 1,4-butanediol — used to manufacture some types of plastics — using genetically engineered bacteria is reported online this week in Nature Chemical Biology. These results are an example of the power of metabolic engineering for environmentally friendly chemical production.Metabolic engineering generally describes efforts to change the metabolism of a cell by introducing or altering genes that then induce the cell to synthesize a target small molecule. Often the target molecule is one that is already produced naturally, so research efforts focus on manipulating known metabolic pathways to synthesize more of the molecule, or importing genes from other organisms that are known to make the desired molecule. To synthesize the non-natural 1,4-butanediol, Stephen Van Dien and colleagues used a comprehensive analysis method along with established engineering strategies to identify enzymes from a variety of organisms that were expected to perform known and new reactions. The authors were able to design a bacterial strain that could achieve production of near commercial levels of the compound from glucose as well as crude sugar feedstocks.
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