Synbio MashUp #20

The Synthetic Biology Mashup is a weekly review of articles and news related to synthetic biology and metabolic engineering. While we share most of this on our twitter feed, if you need to catch up on this week’s news just read ahead!

Programmable Bacteria within the Mammalian Gut

The Silver lab at Harvard Medical School recently programed bacteria to detect and record an environmental signals in the mammalian gut in the hopes of using them for diagnostic purposes. They engineered a strain of E. coli bacteria to react to the presence of a anhydrotetracycline and the response was an inheritable change in state based on the cl/Cro system from phage lambda. This change detectable after retrieval of the bacteria from mice guts. Moving forward, the researchers hope to be able to detect a larger range of more medically relevant triggers and increase the length of time over which the response is detectable. The ultimate goal of the project would be to engineer bacteria that not only detect medically relevant conditions, but also respond in a proactive manner, thus creating  dynamic and living therapies.

Saving the American Chestnut Using Genetic Engineering

This week the Motley Fool investigated the history of the American chestnut tree. From its recent near extinction due to the accidental importation of Chinese fungus Cryptonectria parasitica, to the current efforts to reestablish its population, Chestnut trees have had a central role in the economy, environment and cultural history of the USA. Now a team from the State University of New York are using precise genetic engineering techniques to introduce wheat resistance genes coding for an enzyme capable of neutralising the acid produced by the pathogenic fungus into chestnut seeds. The team led by Dr Powell has already created a “prototype” tree, called Darling 4 American chestnut that displays a significant increased resistance, and are preparing to conduct field tests on an even more resistant prototype, Darling 311. The article showcases the advantages of genetic engineering compared to the use of cross-breeding techniques in the current GMO debate.

International Collaboration to Develop Stress-Resistant Rice

Rice is an incredibly important staple food all over the world. However, it is sensitive to rainfall levels and soil salinity. As climate change renders rain patterns more erratic and as soil salinity increases, rice crop may further suffer. In response, a collaborative effort between researchers from the International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in New Delhi, the Tamil Nadu Agriculture University in Coimbatore, Southern India and the Queensland University of Technology in Australia are working on introducing stress-resistance genes from a highly resistant Australian grass into rice to produce a genetically-engineered rice strain which will ensure continued crop volume regardless of environmental challenges. This three-year project is jointly funded by the Indian and Australian governments.

Innovative Genomics Initiative Launched in California

The University of California Berkeley and University of California San Francisco are teaming together to launch the Innovative Genomics Initiative (IGI). The IGI is built up around CRISPR/Cas9, a discovery made by Berkeley Professor Doudna’s team. CRISPR/Cas9 has the potential to enable researchers to target specific genes in order to study and combat genetic diseases more specifically, accurately, and efficiently than ever before. In less than two years since its publication, the work has been used in over 125 other publications and is the foundation for several start-up companies. As Prof. Doudna explains, “the main goal of the initiative is to develop the CRISPR/Cas9 technology for applications in human health, and create a library of research resources that will make it available broadly.”

Synthetic Biology Flash News

EnEvolv, the small company co-founded last year by George Church, received last week its first round of financing, $1.7M from Cultivian Sandbox Venture Partners. EnEvolv aims at using Multiplex Automated Genome Engineering (MAGE) to engineer and license microorganisms to produce chemicals, enzymes, and small molecules for pharmaceuticals, personal care, specialty chemicals, food, and energy industries.

SynBio Consulting Founder, Camille Delebecque, was interviewed this week in the French biotech news website

That’s it for this week’s Synthetic Biology Mashup! A suggestion or a question? Shoot us an email!

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