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iGEM 2017 Manchester looking forward to the Giant Jamboree!

Manchester iGEM 2017: This year our team of undergraduate students from the University of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University are working on a project that aims to engineer a bacterium that can take up and store increased levels of phosphate through micro-compartments.

Tackling the problem of phosporus through phosphostore – a system which could sequester and store high levels of Phosphate.  “We may be able to substitute nuclear power for coal power, and plastics for wood, and yeast for meat, and friendliness for isolation – but for phosphorus there is neither substitution nor replacement – Issac Asimov’s “Life’s bottleneck”

Breakthrough in pharmaceuticals production with new enzyme discovery

Scientists have discovered a new enzyme that will make a drug used to treat Parkinson’s disease cheaper and quicker to produce. Researchers at the Universities of Manchester and York found the enzyme in Aspergillus oryzae, a kind of fungus used for making soy sauce. The discovery, ‘A reductive aminase from Aspergillus oryzae’ was published in Nature Chemistry.

The enzyme’s greatest impact could be in a class of medications called monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors. One such example of this kind of drug is Rasagiline, which helps Parkinson sufferers by increasing a substance in the brain that affects motor function. These substances help reduce the involuntary tremors that are associated with the condition. The medicine works in both early and advanced Parkinson’s, and is especially useful in dealing with non-motor symptoms of the condition, like fatigue.

The team, led by Professor Nick Turner, Professor of Chemical Biology from the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology (MIB), have identified a new biocatalyst (RedAm) that accelerates a process called reductive amination.“This is a very exciting discovery from both a chemistry and pharmaceutical perspective. It is the first enzyme of its kind that has these properties and has the potential to improve the production of this and other important drugs.” Professor Nick Turner

New species of yeast could help beer brewers reach new heights

Researchers at the University of Manchester have discovered a new species of yeast that could help brewers create better lager. Working in collaboration with the National Collection of Yeast Cultures (NCYC), the team say it is a new of  member of the Saccharomyces family and is closely related to the familiar brewers’ and bakers’ yeast.

However, this new species was found at altitude, growing more than 1000 metres above sea level on an oak tree in Saint Auban, in the foothills of the French Alps. To survive at this altitude, the yeast has developed an ability to tolerate colder conditions than most other known strains of Saccharomyces yeasts.

Professor Daniela Delneri, from the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology at The University of Manchester, said: “This ability is of interest to brewers, as lagers rely on yeasts that thrive in the cold; it also open the opportunity to create arrays of novel yeast hybrids with improved biotechnological traits.” Yeasts also play a major role in many industrial biotechnology applications that rely on their fermentation, and a yeast that operates at lower temperatures opens up potential new applications in this field.

Synthetic Biology UK 2017

27-28th November 2017, Manchester Conference Centre, UK. The SynBio UK conference aims to showcase UK Synthetic Biology research and to create a focal point for the community, embracing its diversity and fostering its growth and its engagement with society. Held in the vibrant city of Manchester, where scientists first split the atom, and next door to the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology which is home to SYNBIOCHEM, we will have some focus towards chemicals and industrial biotechnology at this year’s meeting.

Abstract submission and early bird registration deadline Friday 29th  September 2017.  All attendees, particularly researchers in the early stages of their career, are invited to submit a poster abstract for consideration as an oral communication.

C3 Bio-Technologies Ltd

A spin out company, C3 Bio-Technologies Ltd, was incorporated to utilise synthetic biology to facilitate the production of propane.  The company seeks to develop an economically-sustainable manufacturing process for full-scale bio-propane production and brings together two long-standing specialists from Biotechnology research, Professor Nigel Scrutton director of the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology and SYNBIOCHEM, and the LPG industry, Michael Smith  director of Pressure Tech Transport Services Ltd a specialist regional supplier of LPG.

Research paper on the development of synthetic pathways for renewable biosynthesis of propane can be found here.

SpeedyGenes gene synthesis method

DNAbluecode2A new chapter in Methods Mol. Biol. (Currin et al, 2017. Vol 1472, 63-78) describes our SpeedyGenes method that allows the assembly of DNA sequences with fewer errors and its use to encode extensive, statistically designed sequence variation at any position in the sequence to generate diverse yet accurate variant libraries.  We also describe the integrated use of GeneGenie to design DNA and oligonucleotide sequences, followed by the procedure for assembling these accurately and efficiently using SpeedyGenes. These methods provide useful tools for synthetic biology and biotechnology where gene synthesis is utilised to assemble any desired DNA sequence, which can then be incorporated into novel parts and pathways.

Microbial cell factories for the production of high-value pharmaceuticals

colonies-blue-2A new H2020 funded project TOPCAPI, involving 8 academic and industry partners from 4 different countries (led by Prof. Takano) will exploit the natural fabrication power of actinomycetes as microbial cell factories to produce high-value pharmaceutical ingredients, in particular the starter compound for the semi-synthesis of a new topical anti-acne drug currently in Phase II clinical trials, and intermediates for the semi-synthetic production of medically important type II polyketide tetracyclines to be used against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infections (MRSA). TOPCAPI will focus on the engineering of two bacterial host species: Streptomyces coelicolor and Streptomyces rimosus. These host species will be characterized using systems biology approaches, applying integrated data analysis to transcriptomics and metabolomics experiments, combined with predictive mathematical modelling to drive the rapid improvement of these microbial cell factories for industrial drug production using advanced metabolic and biosynthetic engineering approaches. At the same time, the project will establish an expanded toolbox for the engineering of actinomycete bacteria as production chassis for other high added value compounds.


Biosynthesis of semi-synthetic antibiotics

shutterstock_70250746-pillsA major new collaboration between members of SYNBIOCHEM and the John Innes Centre, funded by BBRSC/EPSRC and Innovate UK, will explore SynBio approaches for the total biosynthesis of semi-synthetic antibiotics. Natural products are molecules typically produced by plants and microorganisms that have been widely exploited for pharmaceutical and other applications, but their use as therapeutic agents often requires further multi-step synthetic (chemical) transformation to produce the final optimised drug molecule. The project aims to develop new enzymes, pathways and riboswitch biosensors which can be introduced into host microorganisms to produce optimised drug molecules in a single step, enabling cheaper greener routes to essential medicines.

Synthetic biology for high performance materials


In partnership with the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), The University of Manchester (UoM) and SYNBIOCHEM, have launched a series of SynBio initiatives around the development of high performance materials with potential civilian and military applications. The research unites expertise in SynBio, additive manufacture, polymer science and allied disciplines and is focused on aramid fibres, multi-functional nanofibres, bioprocessing of agricultural waste and enzyme engineering for new materials. This work is complemented by additional projects funded through EPSRC/Innovate UK.

New Uk – Brazilian collaboration

Harnessing SynBio, metagenomics and bioprocessing to provide alternative routes to high value chemicals.

ligninLignin can be obtained as a by-product of cellulosic ethanol production, and is a potential source of renewable chemicals. Efficient valorisation of lignin is a major unsolved problem in the development of sustainable biorefineries. This 5 year project builds upon an existing BBSRC/FAPESP FAPPA partnership award, and brings together expertise in cellulosic ethanol production and in biocatalyst discovery (CTBE) with expertise in biocatalytic lignin valorisation (Warwick) and biocatalysis for high value chemicals production (Manchester, UCL).