“Love hurts”—as the saying goes—and a certain amount of pain and difficulty in intimate relationships is unavoidable. Sometimes it may even be beneficial, since adversity can lead to personal growth, self-discovery, and a range of other components of a life well-lived. But other times, love can be downright dangerous. It may bind a spouse to her domestic abuser, draw an unscrupulous adult toward sexual involvement with a child, put someone under the insidious spell of a cult leader, and even inspire jealousy-fueled homicide. How might these perilous devotions be diminished? The ancients thought that treatments such as phlebotomy, exercise, or bloodletting could “cure” an individual of love. But modern neuroscience and emerging developments in psychopharmacology open up a range of possible interventions that might actually work. These developments raise profound moral questions about the potential uses—and misuses—of such anti-love biotechnology. In this article, we describe a number of prospective love-diminishing interventions, and offer a preliminary ethical framework for dealing with them responsibly should they arise.
Single-cell oil (SCO) represents a sustainable alternative for the oil industry. Accordingly, the identification of microorganisms with either higher lipidogenic ability or novel capacities for the transformation of raw materials constitutes a major challenge for the field of oil biotechnology. With this in mind, here, we were prompted to address the lipidogenic profile of the filamentous hemiascomycete Ashbya gossypii, which is currently used for the microbial production of vitamins. We found that A. gossypii mostly accumulates unsaturated fatty acids (FAs), with more than 50% of the total FA content corresponding to oleic acid. In addition, we engineered A. gossypii strains both lacking the beta-oxidation pathway and also providing ATP-citrate lyase (ACL) activity to block the degradation of FA and to increase the cytosolic acetyl-coenzyme A (CoA) content, respectively. The lipidogenic profile of the newly developed strains demonstrates that the mere elimination of the beta-oxidation pathway in A. gossypii triggers a significant increase in lipid accumulation that can reach 70% of cell dry weight. The use of A. gossypii as a novel and robust tool for the production of added-value oils is further discussed.
The guest editors introduce a Biomedical Optics Express feature issue that includes contributions from participants at the 2013 conference on Advances in Optics for Biotechnology, Medicine and Surgery XIII.
Endosperm transfer cells (ETC) are one of four main types of cells in endosperm. A characteristic feature of ETC is the presence of cell wall in-growths that create an enlarged plasma membrane surface area. This specialized cell structure is important for the specific function of ETC, which is to transfer nutrients from maternal vascular tissue to endosperm. ETC-specific genes are of particular interest to plant biotechnologists, who use genetic engineering to improve grain quality and yield characteristics of important field crops. The success of molecular biology-based approaches to manipulating ETC function is dependent on a thorough understanding of the functions of ETC-specific genes and ETC-specific promoters. The aim of this review is to summarize the existing data on structure and function of ETC-specific genes and their products. Potential applications of ETC-specific genes, and in particular their promoters for biotechnology will be discussed.
Arthrospira are attractive candidates to serve as cell factories for production of many valuable compounds useful for food, feed, fuel and pharmaceutical industries. In connection with the development of sustainable bioprocessing, it is a challenge to design and develop efficient Arthrospira cell factories which can certify effective conversion from the raw materials (i.e. CO2 and sun light) into desired products. With the current availability of the genome sequences and metabolic models of Arthrospira, the development of Arthrospira factories can now be accelerated by means of systems biology and the metabolic engineering approach. Here, we review recent research involving the use of Arthrospira cell factories for industrial applications, as well as the exploitation of systems biology and the metabolic engineering approach for studying Arthrospira. The current status of genomics and proteomics through the development of the genome-scale metabolic model of Arthrospira, as well as the use of mathematical modeling to simulate the phenotypes resulting from the different metabolic engineering strategies are discussed. At the end, the perspective and future direction on Arthrospira cell factories for industrial biotechnology are presented.
Technological developments over the past century have made microbes the work-horses of large scale industrial production processes. Current efforts focus on the metabolic engineering of microbial strains to produce high levels of desirable end-products. The arsenal of the contemporary metabolic engineer contains tools that allow either targeted rational interventions or global screens that combine classical approaches with –omics technologies. Production of terpenoids in S. cerevisiae presents a characteristic example of contemporary biotechnology that integrates all the variety of novel approaches used in metabolic engineering. Terpenoids have attracted significant interest as pharmaceuticals, flavour and fragrance additives, and, more recently, biofuels. The ongoing metabolic engineering efforts, combined with the continuously increasing number of terpene biosynthetic enzymes discovered will enable the economical and environmentally friendly production of a wide range of compounds.
Enzymes are an attractive alternative in the asymmetric syntheses of chiral building blocks. To meet the requirements of industrial biotechnology and to introduce new functionalities, the enzymes need to be optimized by protein engineering. This article specifically reviews rational approaches for enzyme engineering and de novo enzyme design involving structure-based approaches developed in recent years for improvement of the enzymes’ performance, broadened substrate range, and creation of novel functionalities to obtain products with high added value for industrial applications.
Biotechnology research is traditionally focused on individual microbial strains that are perceived to have the necessary metabolic functions, or the capability to have these functions introduced, to achieve a particular task. For many important applications, the development of such omnipotent microbes is an extremely challenging if not impossible task. By contrast, nature employs a radically different strategy based on synergistic combinations of different microbial species that collectively achieve the desired task. These natural communities have evolved to exploit the native metabolic capabilities of each species and are highly adaptive to changes in their environments. However, microbial communities have proven difficult to study due to a lack of suitable experimental and computational tools.
Luciferase enzymes from fireflies and other beetles have many important applications in molecular biology, biotechnology, analytical chemistry and several other areas. Many novel beetle luciferases with promising properties have been reported in the recent years. However, actual and potential applications of wild-type beetle luciferases are often limited by insufficient stability or decrease in activity of the enzyme at the conditions of a particular assay. Various examples of genetic engineering of the enhanced beetle luciferases have been reported that successfully solve or alleviate many of these limitations. This mini-review summarizes the recent advances in development of mutant luciferases with improved stability and activity characteristics. It discusses the common limitations of wild-type luciferases in different applications and presents the efficient approaches that can be used to address these problems.
The complexity of the regulatory network and the interactions that occur in the intracellular environment of microorganisms highlight the importance in developing tractable mechanistic models of cellular functions and systematic approaches for modelling biological systems. To this end, the existing process systems engineering approaches can serve as a vehicle for understanding, integrating and designing biological systems and processes. Here, we review the application of a holistic approach for the development of mathematical models of biological systems, from the initial conception of the model to its final application in model-based control and optimisation. We also discuss the use of mechanistic models that account for gene regulation, in an attempt to advance the empirical expressions traditionally used to describe micro-organism growth kinetics, and we highlight current and future challenges in mathematical biology. The modelling research framework discussed herein could prove beneficial for the design of optimal bioprocesses, employing rational and feasible approaches towards the efficient production of chemicals and pharmaceuticals.
Proteins are the most multifaceted macromolecules in living systems and have various important functions, including structural, catalytic, sensory, and regulatory functions. Rational design of enzymes is a great challenge to our understanding of protein structure and physical chemistry and has numerous potential applications. Protein design algorithms have been applied to design or engineer proteins that fold, fold faster, catalyze, catalyze faster, signal, and adopt preferred conformational states. The field of de novo protein design, although only a few decades old, is beginning to produce exciting results. Developments in this field are already having a significant impact on biotechnology and chemical biology. The application of powerful computational methods for functional protein designing has recently succeeded at engineering target activities. Here, we review recently reported de novo functional proteins that were developed using various protein design approaches, including rational design, computational optimization, and selection from combinatorial libraries, highlighting recent advances and successes.
Light is harvested in cyanobacteria by chlorophyll-containing photosystems embedded in the thylakoid membranes and phycobilisomes (PBSs), photosystem-associated light-harvesting antennae. Light absorbed by the PBSs and photosystems can be converted to chemical energy through photosynthesis. Photosynthetically fixed carbon pools, which are constrained by photosynthetic light capture versus the dissipation of excess light absorbed, determine the available organismal energy budget. The molecular bases of the environmental regulation of photosynthesis, photoprotection, and photomorphogenesis are still being elucidated in cyanobacteria. Thus, the potential impacts of these phenomena on the efficacy of developing cyanobacteria as robust biotechnological platforms require additional attention. Current advances and persisting needs for developing cyanobacterial production platforms that are related to light sensing and harvesting include the development of tools to balance the utilization of absorbed photons for conversion to chemical energy and biomass versus light dissipation in photoprotective mechanisms. Such tools can be used to direct energy to more effectively support the production of desired bioproducts from sunlight.
The main goal of Synthetic Biology (SB) is to apply engineering principles to biotechnology in order to make life easier to engineer. These engineering principles include modularity: decoupling of complex systems into smaller, orthogonal sub-systems that can be used in a range of different applications. The successful use of modules in engineering is expected to be reproduced in synthetic biological systems. But the difficulties experienced up to date with SB approaches question the short-term feasibility of designing life. Considering the “engineerable” nature of life, here we discuss the existence of modularity in natural living systems, particularly in symbiotic interactions, and compare the behavior of such systems, with those of engineered modules. We conclude that not only is modularity present but it is also common among living structures, and that symbioses are a new example of module-like sub-systems having high similarity with modularly designed ones. However, we also detect and stress fundamental differences between man-made and biological modules. Both similarities and differences should be taken into account in order to adapt SB design to biological laws.
Mixed-acid fermentation end products have numerous applications in biotechnology. This is probably the main driving force for the development of multiple strains that are supposed to produce individual end products with high yields. The process of engineering Escherichia coli strains for applied production of ethanol, lactate, succinate, or acetate was initiated several decades ago and is still ongoing. This review follows the path of strain development from the general characteristics of aerobic versus anaerobic metabolism over the regulatory machinery that enables the different metabolic routes. Thereafter, major improvements for broadening the substrate spectrum of E. coli toward cheap carbon sources like molasses or lignocellulose are highlighted before major routes of strain development for the production of ethanol, acetate, lactate, and succinate are presented.
Many research groups are interested in engineering the metabolism of cyanobacteria with the objective to convert solar energy, CO2, and water (perhaps also N2) into commercially valuable products. Toward this objective, many challenges stand in the way before sustainable production can be realized. One of these challenges, potentially, is genetic instability. Although only a handful of reports of this phenomenon are available in the scientific literature, it does appear to be a real issue that so far has not been studied much in cyanobacteria. With this brief perspective, I wish to raise the awareness of this potential issue and hope to inspire future studies on the topic as I believe it will make an important contribution to enabling sustainable large-scale biotechnology in the future using aquatic photobiological microorganisms.
Cisgenesis is genetic modification to transfer beneficial alleles from crossable species into a recipient plant. The donor genes transferred by cisgenesis are the same as those used in traditional breeding. It can avoid linkage drag, enhance the use of existing gene alleles. This approach combines traditional breeding techniques with modern biotechnology and dramatically speeds up the breeding process. This allows plant genomes to be modified while remaining plants within the gene pool. Therefore, cisgenic plants should not be assessed as transgenics for environmental impacts.
In contrast to the dominant drug paradigm in which compounds were developed to “fit all,” new models focused around personalized medicine are appearing in which treatments are developed and customized for individual patients. The agricultural biotechnology industry (Ag-biotech) should also think about these new personalized models. For example, most common herbicides are generic in action, which led to the development of genetically modified crops to add specificity. The ease and accessibility of modern genomic analysis, when wedded to accessible large chemical space, should facilitate the discovery of chemicals that are more selective in their utility. Is it possible to develop species-selective herbicides and growth regulators? More generally put, is plant research at a stage where chemicals can be developed that streamline plant development and growth to various environments? We believe the advent of chemical genomics now opens up these and other opportunities to “personalize” agriculture. Furthermore, chemical genomics does not necessarily require genetically tractable plant models, which in principle should allow quick translation to practical applications. For this to happen, however, will require collaboration between the Ag-biotech industry and academic labs for early stage research and development...