Researchers from North Carolina State University developed an artificial enzymatic pathway for synthesizing isoprenoids, or terpenes, in E. coli.
Terpenes are a large class of naturally occurring molecules that are useful in industries ranging from pharmaceuticals and cosmetics to food and biofuels. In nature, terpenes are found in plants and microbes, for example, lycopene, a pigment that gives tomatoes red color is a terpene.
These molecules are extracted from its natural sources using biosynthesis technique by the scientists. However, conventional biosynthesizing terpene has been challenging. Therefore, the new discovery is more efficient, cost-effective and customizable pathway, which transforms E. coli into a factory that can produce terpenes for use in everything from cancer drugs to biofuels.
Gavin Williams, associate professor of chemistry at NC State and lead author of the paper describing the work, said: “Terpenes are difficult to biosynthesize because nature's methods for making the building blocks of these molecules are lengthy, complicated, and involve enzymes that are difficult to engineer. These difficulties in turn make it hard to engineer microbes to manufacture these molecules in large amounts.”
The team designed an artificial pathway for terpene synthesis that utilizes only two enzymes, rather than the six or seven that occur in natural pathways. They developed a new route with two enzymes that occur in nature, but that aren't normally involved in this pathway.
They engineered E. coli to develop several different varieties of terpene with the simplified pathway, including lycopene. They found that the new pathway was equally as productive as longer, more difficult-to-engineer pathways currently in use.
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