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New engineered proteins could optimise biofuel yields

Purdue designer proteins reversibly aggregate (become a white solid) under conditions of cellular stress to increase biomanufacturing efficiency by reducing transcription factor availability and decreasing stressful gene expression. Image courtesy of Purdue University
Purdue designer proteins reversibly aggregate (become a white solid) under conditions of cellular stress to increase biomanufacturing efficiency by reducing transcription factor availability and decreasing stressful gene expression. Image courtesy of Purdue University

A series of engineered proteins could improve biomanufacturing processes for the production of biofuels and other products including pharmaceuticals and commodity chemicals, according to researchers.

Kevin Solomon, an assistant professor in Purdue University’s Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, and colleagues have developed a series of engineered proteins derived from elastin-like polypeptides (ELPs), on single linear chains of amino acids. The team believes that these can address a common problem in biomanufacturing processes.

During the production process, the buildup of toxic materials can damage cell health, typically lowering the overall amount of product that is made.

The researchers fused the ELPs to transcription factors, proteins that bind to DNA, to control gene expression and therefore regulate the buildup of toxic materials.

“Our transcriptional regulators recognise generic signals of toxicity and, thus, can be applied to pathways for the production of many compounds,” Solomon says in a Purdue University news release.

“These regulators are tunable, by controlling the ELP structure, to create feedback that only triggers at preprogrammed setpoints.”

By selecting an appropriate transition setpoint for a given production pathway, the regulators can be tailored to different biomanufacturing processes. According to the Purdue article, this means they provide a generic tunable platform with ‘clear design rules that can be developed for any process.’ Current approaches, on the other hand, are product specific and therefore complicated to adapt.

“Our system is programmable, meaning that we can make specific changes in the ELP sequence that allow us to tailor its transition property, therefore, allowing us to create a library of ELPs that transition under various conditions,” said Logan Readnour, a graduate student in agricultural and biological engineering and a member of Solomon’s research team.

“We are able to target specific genes for regulation and because we use a transcription factor that is not native to the cell, it does not interfere with the native processes already present within the cell.”

The researchers hope that improving cell health in the biomanufacturing process will optimise yields of valuable products such as medicines and fuels.

A patent application has been filed by the Purdue Office of Technology Commercialisation and the technology is available for licensing.

 

Purdue designer proteins reversibly aggregate (become a white solid) under conditions of cellular stress to increase biomanufacturing efficiency by reducing transcription factor availability and decreasing stressful gene expression. Image courtesy of Purdue University