How Bacteria may become our “future factories”?

There has long been a debate about the increasing production burden of various commodities and its impact on environment. We have always searched for alternative eco friendly way of producing our goods. As an approach to solve this problem, researchers at Wyss Institute have thought of using our lovable bacteria, E.coli!! But How?

E.coli can be genetically turned into Super-productive factories of the future. These bacterial cells can be employed to create valuable chemical commodities in an environmentally friendly way. By leveraging their natural metabolic processes, bacteria could be reprogrammed to convert readily available sources of natural energy into pharmaceuticals, plastics, and fuel products.

The basic idea of the project is to accelerate evolution to make awesome amounts of valuable chemicals.  Biosensors play an important role in using these metabolically engineering microbes.  Biosensors use a fluorescent protein and a “detector” that responds to the presence of a specific chemical. This way biosensors act as the switches and levers that turn programmed functions on and off inside the engineered cells. They also can be used to detect which microbial “workers” are producing the most voluminous amounts of a desired chemical. In this way, they can be thought of as the medium for two–way communication between humans and cells.

The study findings could also lead to new applications in environmental monitoring using genetically engineered microbes to issue warning signals in the presence of pollutants or toxins, and could unlock new fundamental insights into metabolic pathways.

We are yet at the beginning of the path, towards understanding the full potential of bacteria. Hopefully one day I could even get to paint my nails!! Or maybe not. You never know.

–Ushanandini Mohanraj




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