Emily Singer is reporting in today’s feature article at the MIT Technology Review about the efforts of scientists to use synthetic biology to develop ever more efficient drug-producing bacteria:
Leaner, meaner bacteria could provide safer and more efficient ways to make hard-to-manufacture biological products, including vaccines and DNA-based pharmaceuticals. In a paper published online in Science last week, researchers described how they used synthetic biology techniques to remove large, unnecessary chunks of the genome from Escherichia coli, a type of bacteria commonly used for research and industrial purposes. The resulting bacteria could grow just as well as their unedited counterparts and could produce some biological products more efficiently.
The findings show that genomes can be restructured on a large scale without harming the organism. That achievement points to the great promise of the emerging field of synthetic biology — the attempt to design and rebuild organisms to perform specific functions. “It’s a great achievement,” says George Church, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School in Boston. “It makes people think about redoing genomes to make them do what you want it to do. It gives one hope that these sorts of things are possible.”