Scientists at the universities of Kent and Bristol have built a miniature scaffold inside bacteria that can be used to bolster cellular productivity, with implications for the next generation of biofuel production.
Because there is a growing need for agricultural or renewable production of biofuels and other commodity chemicals to move away from fossil fuels, scientists have long sought to enhance the internal organisation of bacteria and improve the efficiency of the cells for making nutrients, pharmaceuticals and chemicals.
The research team, led by Professor Martin Warren at Kent's School of Biosciences, working with professors Dek Woolfson and Paul Verkade at Bristol, found they could make nano-tubes that generated a scaffold inside bacteria.
With as many as a thousand tubes fitting into each cell, the tubular scaffold can be used to increase the bacteria's efficiency to make commodities and provide the foundation for a new era of cellular protein engineering.
The researchers designed protein molecules and developed techniques to allow E. coli to make long tubes that contain a coupling device to which other specific components can be attached. A production line of enzymes could then be arranged along the tubes, generating efficient internal factories for the coordinated production of important chemicals.
Uitilising a form of molecular velcro to hold the components together, the team added one part of the fastener to the tube-forming protein and the other to specific enzymes to show that the enzymes can attach to the tubes.
By applying this new technology to enzymes required for the production of ethanol - an important biofuel - the researchers were able to increase alcohol production by over 200%.
This Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) funded collaborative project between the University of Kent, University College London and the University of Bristol entitled Engineered synthetic scaffolds for organizing proteins within the bacterial cytoplasm is now published in the journal Nature Chemical Biology.
For further information or interview requests contact Sandy Fleming at the University of Kent Press Office.
Established in 1965, the University of Kent - the UK's European university - now has almost 20,000 students across campuses or study centres at Canterbury, Medway, Tonbridge, Brussels, Paris, Athens and Rome.
It has been ranked 22nd in the Guardian University Guide 2018 and 25th in the Complete University Guide 2018, and in June 2017 was awarded a gold rating, the highest, in the UK Government's Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).
In the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2015-16, it is in the top 10% of the world's leading universities for international outlook and 66th in its table of the most international universities in the world. The THE also ranked the University as 20th in its 'Table of Tables' 2016.
Kent is ranked 17th in the UK for research intensity (REF 2014). It has world-leading research in all subjects and 97% of its research is deemed by the REF to be of international quality.
In the National Student Survey 2016, Kent achieved the fourth highest score for overall student satisfaction, out of all publicly funded, multi-faculty universities.
Along with the universities of East Anglia and Essex, Kent is a member of the Eastern Arc Research Consortium (http://www.kent.ac.uk/about/partnerships/eastern-arc.html).
The University is worth £0.7 billion to the economy of the south east and supports more than 7,800 jobs in the region. Student off-campus spend contributes £293.3m and 2,532 full-time-equivalent jobs to those totals.
Kent has received two Queen's Anniversary prizes for Higher and Further Education.
Nature Chemical Biology