Longevity Briefs: Using Light to Turn Bacteria into Chemical Factories

Posted on 14 September 2020

Longevity briefs provides a short summary of a novel research, medicine, or technology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.

Beach scene with bacterial strains expressing different kinds of fluorescent protein, from the laboratory of the Nobel prize-winning biochemist Roger Tsien

Why is this research important: Bacteria is used to synthesize a lot of important chemicals such as insulin or biofuel. Genetic engineering allows to modify metabolic pathways in bacteria, so said chemicals can be synthesized. However, alterations can burden the cells, slowing down/inhibiting their growth and making them ineffective for mass-scale production. Switches are required for precise activation/deactivation of specific pathways to regulate bacteria growth and chemical production.

What did the researchers do: In this study, researchers have developed an optical switch that does not rely on chemical inducer.

Key takeaway(s) from this research: Optical switch is far more economically efficient than a chemical one, as light is cheaper. Also, it is more precise, as chemical switches are heavily dependent on diffusion rates, thus not all bacteria begin to synthesize desired product.

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