Scientists Modified Bacteria to Stop Using Animals to Make Drugs

Scientists have reprogrammed a common bacterium to create a constructive polysaccharide molecule. It is used in pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals and will reduce the use of animal products in drug development.

The researchers modified E. coli to produce chondroitin sulfate, a complex sugar. It is best known as a dietary supplement for the treatment of arthritis. Now it is obtained from the trachea of ​​cows.

Genetically modified E. coli is used in many medicines. However, it took scientists years to get bacteria to produce even the simplest bound sugar molecules in its class – sulfated glycosaminoglycans. They are often used as medicines and nutraceuticals.

Developing E. coli to produce these molecules is not an easy task, and we had to make many changes and balance them in order for the bacteria to grow well. But this work shows that it is possible to produce these polysaccharides using E. coli without using animals. In addition, the procedure can be expanded to produce other sulfated glycosaminoglycans.

Matteos Koffas, Principal Investigator and Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the Rensselaer Polytechnic.

The creation of E. coli for the production of a drug has many advantages over the current extraction process or even the chemoenzymatic process.

The scientists first created the structure of the enzyme and then used an algorithm to help identify the mutations they could make to the enzyme in order to create a stable version that would work with E. coli.

Although modified E. coli produces relatively small yields – on the order of micrograms per liter – they thrive in normal laboratory conditions, which is a compelling proof of concept.

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Alexandr Ivanov earned his Licentiate Engineer in Systems and Computer Engineering from the Free International University of Moldova. Since 2013, Alexandr has been working as a freelance web programmer.
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Alexandr Ivanov

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