The team at The University of Manchester have come up with a common gut bacterium that can produce a new class of antibiotics by using robotics. These antibiotics are known as class II polyketides and are naturally produced by soil bacteria and have antimicrobial properties which are vital in the modern pharmaceutical industry to combat infectious diseases and cancer.
The Escherichia coli bacteria are naturally produced and are difficult to work with as they grow in dense clumps that are incompatible with the automated robotic systems used for modern biotechnology research. The Manchester team is now making this class of antibiotics accessible for much more rapid exploration by transferring the production machinery from the soil bacteria into E. coli.
The work is published in the journal PLOS Biology and it shows that by combining the bacterial production machinery with enzymes from plants and fungi, it was possible to produce new chemical compounds not previously seen in nature. Using this platform, exploring and engineering polyketides using robotic systems to develop new and diversified polyketides in an automated, rapid and versatile fashion can be possible.
“Nature is a huge treasure trove for powerful chemical compounds to treat a wide range of diseases. However, the most interesting chemicals often come from organisms that are difficult to work with in the laboratory. This has been a major bottleneck for our work on type II polyketides, a group of important chemicals, which are mostly produced by soil bacteria and other microorganisms that are challenging to grow. By successfully moving the production machinery for these compounds into the “laboratory workhorse” bacterium E. coli, we can finally produce and engineer type II polyketides in our rapid robotic systems,” said Professor Eriko Takano, Synthetic Biology at the University of Manchester.
“This not only allows us to trial new polyketides in an automated manner, but we will also be able to quickly rewrite the DNA sequences of the antibiotic biosynthesis pathways and combine them with new components from other organisms, such as medicinal plants and fungi, to produce variations on the antibiotic theme – including compounds that are not produced by the natural pathways, but may have enhanced or novel activities in the treatment of important diseases.”
A person can take almost a year to make and test ten new potential antibiotics, but this automated robotic system can make thousands in that time. This will help in decreasing the time that new antibiotics to reach patients, and provide the necessary agility to react to new pathogen strains and outbreaks.
Source: The University of Manchester