Tuesday, 10 April 2018

New tool tells bioengineers when to build microbial teams

The framework guides complex bioengineering tasks between multiple cell populations.

Researchers have created a framework for helping bioengineers determine when to use multiple lines of cells to manufacture a product. The work could help a variety of industries that use bacteria to produce chemicals ranging from pharmaceuticals to fragrances.

Every cell in the world is constantly absorbing nutrients and raw materials and transforming them into something more useful. Often the process provides the cells with energy or some other vital vitamin or mineral, while leaving behind byproducts that can be beneficial for other cells. This is especially true in complex multicellular organisms and ecosystems, where several different types or species of cells can work together to generate a single complex final product.

Scientists have been harnessing these abilities since the 1970s to produce useful substances like human growth hormone, pharmaceuticals, fragrances and biofuels. Most of the time they rely on a single type of cell for such endeavors for the sake of simplicity. But sometimes the process becomes too complicated.

Researchers put together a system of equations to model how important variables interact in these types of systems. For example, they can model the strain that complex tasks put on a single cell's growth rate or the inefficiencies introduced when cells must pass signals, enzymes and proteins back and forth in a division-of-labor scheme.

They put together more than 20 different variations of how these systems could be built and how they might interact. When they ran the simulations, they discovered that every trial boiled down to how the variables affected two factors -- how fast the cells are able to grow and how much efficiency is lost when two types of cells share resources while transporting molecules between them.


Ryan Tsoi, Feilun Wu, Carolyn Zhang, Sharon Bewick, David Karig, Lingchong You. Metabolic division of labor in microbial systemsProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2018; 201716888 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1716888115

Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle

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