Engineering Microbes For Urban Farming

By defining biological components involved in chemical synthesis as standard DNA cassettes for bacteria, scientists in Singapore hope to give urban farming a boost.

AsianScientist (Aug. 20, 2019) – A research group in Singapore has developed a technique to accelerate the genetic engineering of microbes that can be used to manufacture chemicals with applications in urban farming. The findings are published in Nature Communications.

Rather than rely on catalysts to synthesize compounds required for urban farming, scientists are finding ways to use microbes as chemical factories. This involves tweaking the genetic makeup of microorganisms.

In the present study, researchers led by Assistant Professor Zhou Kang at the Singapore-Massachusetts Institute of Technology Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) have found a way to more accurately and efficiently manipulate the genomes of bacteria.

“The objective of this study was to create a technology that can engineer microbes faster and at a lower cost,” said Dr. Ma Xiaoqiang, a postdoctoral associate at SMART and co-author of the study. “Current technology is expensive and time-consuming. Researchers have to order customized materials from suppliers which takes a while to arrive.”

Hence, the researchers devised a guanine/thymine (GT) DNA assembly technique that defines biological components (especially those needed for specific chemical synthesis) as standard DNA parts. They showed that their GT technology is able to achieve an assembly accuracy of close to 90 percent.

“We anticipate that the huge cost and time savings will enable the development of new fermentation processes that can manufacture green chemicals to make urban farming in Singapore more efficient and safer. This technology is also applicable to all genetic engineering fields outside of agriculture, and we are actively looking at ways we can deploy it for easy access,” said Zhou.

In addition to commercialization plans, the researchers also intend to set up an e-commerce platform which can quickly create and distribute these genetically encoded biological components to researchers around the world.

The article can be found at: Ma et al. (2019) A Standard for Near-scarless Plasmid Construction Using Reusable DNA Parts.


Source: Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology.
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