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KAIST proposes alternatives to chemical factories through “iBridge”
- A computer simulation program “iBridge” was developed at KAIST that can put together microbial cell factories quickly and efficiently to produce cosmetics and food additives, and raw materials for nylons - Eco-friendly and sustainable fermentation process to establish an alternative to chemical plants As climate change and environmental concerns intensify, sustainable microbial cell factories garner significant attention as candidates to replace chemical plants. To develop microorganisms to be used in the microbial cell factories, it is crucial to modify their metabolic processes to induce efficient target chemical production by modulating its gene expressions. Yet, the challenge persists in determining which gene expressions to amplify and suppress, and the experimental verification of these modification targets is a time- and resource-intensive process even for experts. The challenges were addressed by a team of researchers at KAIST (President Kwang-Hyung Lee) led by Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee. It was announced on the 9th by the school that a method for building a microbial factory at low cost, quickly and efficiently, was presented by a novel computer simulation program developed by the team under Professor Lee’s guidance, which is named “iBridge”. This innovative system is designed to predict gene targets to either overexpress or downregulate in the goal of producing a desired compound to enable the cost-effective and efficient construction of microbial cell factories specifically tailored for producing the chemical compound in demand from renewable biomass. Systems metabolic engineering is a field of research and engineering pioneered by KAIST’s Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee that seeks to produce valuable compounds in industrial demands using microorganisms that are re-configured by a combination of methods including, but not limited to, metabolic engineering, synthetic biology, systems biology, and fermentation engineering. In order to improve microorganisms’ capability to produce useful compounds, it is essential to delete, suppress, or overexpress microbial genes. However, it is difficult even for the experts to identify the gene targets to modify without experimental confirmations for each of them, which can take up immeasurable amount of time and resources. The newly developed iBridge identifies positive and negative metabolites within cells, which exert positive and/or negative impact on formation of the products, by calculating the sum of covariances of their outgoing (consuming) reaction fluxes for a target chemical. Subsequently, it pinpoints "bridge" reactions responsible for converting negative metabolites into positive ones as candidates for overexpression, while identifying the opposites as targets for downregulation. The research team successfully utilized the iBridge simulation to establish E. coli microbial cell factories each capable of producing three of the compounds that are in high demands at a production capacity that has not been reported around the world. They developed E. coli strains that can each produce panthenol, a moisturizing agent found in many cosmetics, putrescine, which is one of the key components in nylon production, and 4-hydroxyphenyllactic acid, an anti-bacterial food additive. In addition to these three compounds, the study presents predictions for overexpression and suppression genes to construct microbial factories for 298 other industrially valuable compounds. Dr. Youngjoon Lee, the co-first author of this paper from KAIST, emphasized the accelerated construction of various microbial factories the newly developed simulation enabled. He stated, "With the use of this simulation, multiple microbial cell factories have been established significantly faster than it would have been using the conventional methods. Microbial cell factories producing a wider range of valuable compounds can now be constructed quickly using this technology." Professor Sang Yup Lee said, "Systems metabolic engineering is a crucial technology for addressing the current climate change issues." He added, "This simulation could significantly expedite the transition from resorting to conventional chemical factories to utilizing environmentally friendly microbial factories." < Figure. Conceptual diagram of the flow of iBridge simulation > The team’s work on iBridge is described in a paper titled "Genome-Wide Identification of Overexpression and Downregulation Gene Targets Based on the Sum of Covariances of the Outgoing Reaction Fluxes" written by Dr. Won Jun Kim, and Dr. Youngjoon Lee of the Bioprocess Research Center and Professors Hyun Uk Kim and Sang Yup Lee of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering of KAIST. The paper was published via peer-review on the 6th of November on “Cell Systems” by Cell Press. This research was conducted with the support from the Development of Platform Technologies of Microbial Cell Factories for the Next-generation Biorefineries Project (Project Leader: Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee, KAIST) and Development of Platform Technology for the Production of Novel Aromatic Bioplastic using Microbial Cell Factories Project (Project Leader: Research Professor So Young Choi, KAIST) of the Korean Ministry of Science and ICT.
A KAIST Research Team Develops an Ultra-High Performing “Universal Electrode” for Next-Generation Fuel Cells
Fuel cells are devices that generate electricity with high efficiency using hydrogen, a clean energy source, and are expected to play an important part in the upcoming hydrogen society. The recent development of an excellent universal electrode material that is applicable to all next-generation fuel cells and can withstand 700 hours of operation has therefore garnered a great deal of attention. On August 9, a joint research team led by Prof. WooChul Jung from the KAIST Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Prof. Kang Taek Lee from the KAIST Department of Mechanical Engineering, and Prof. Jun Hyuk Kim from the Department of Chemical Engineering at Hongik University announced the development of an electrode material that is applicable to both oxygen- and proton-conducting solid oxide cells. Depending on the type of ion conducted by the electrolyte, ceramic fuel cells are categorized into either solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC) or protonic ceramic fuel cells (PCFC). As they can both convert between electricity and hydrogen production, fuel cells can be categorized into a total of four device types. These devices are applicable in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, hydrogen charging stations, and power generation systems, and are henceforth emerging as core next-generation technologies for a carbon-neutral society. However, these devices have a chronic problem where the speed of their slowest reaction would decrease with a drop of driving temperature, which greatly reduces device efficiency. Various studies have been conducted to solve this, but most reported that electrode materials have low catalytic activity and their applications are limited to specific devices, which limits them from being used as SOFCs that require reversible power conversion and hydrogen production. < Figure 1. Schematic diagram of high-performance oxygen ion conductive solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) and proton conductive ceramic fuel cell (PCFC) operates with the new universal electrodes > To solve this issue, the research team doped a perovskite oxide material with Ta5+, a high valence ion that did not receive much attention in the field. Through this, the team successfully stabilized what is usually a highly unstable crystal structure, and confirmed that catalytic activity improved by 100 times. The electrode material developed by the team was applied to all four of the mentioned device types. Furthermore, their efficiencies were greater than any of the devices reported thus far, and showed excellent performance by stably running for much longer (700 hours) compared to existing materials that deteriorated within the first 100 hours of operation. < Figure 2. (a) Power conversion and hydrogen production performance chart for the protonic ceramic fuel cell (PCFC) with the new universal electrodes (b) and performance comparison with other reported devices > This research, in which KAIST’s Ph.D. candidates Dongyeon Kim and Sejong Ahn, and Professor Jun Hyuk Kim from Hongik University contributed as co-first authors, was published in the internationally renowned Energy & Environmental Science under the title, "Oxygen-Electrode for Reversible Solid Oxide Electrochemical Cells at Reduced Temperatures". Prof. WooChul Jung said, “We broke free from the idea that we must develop a completely new material to solve an existing problem, and instead suggested a way to control the crystal structure of a lesser-known material to develop a high-efficiency fuel cell, and that’s what makes these results more significant.” Prof. Kang Taek Lee added, “Unlike previously reported materials that could only be applied to one device type at a time, our material has the flexibility of being applicable to all four. We therefore look forward to its contribution in the commercialization of eco-friendly energy technology including fuel cells and water-splitting equipment for hydrogen production.” This research was supported by a National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) grant funded by the Korean Ministry of Science and ICT.
KAIST presents a microbial cell factory as a source of eco-friendly food and cosmetic coloring
Despite decades of global population growth, global food crisis seems to be at hand yet again because the food productivity is cut severely due to prolonged presence of abnormal weather from intensifying climate change and global food supply chain is deteriorated due to international conflicts such as wars exacerbating food shortages and nutritional inequality around the globe. At the same time, however, as awareness of the environment and sustainability rises, an increase in demand for more eco-friendly and high-quality food and beauty products is being observed not without a sense of irony. At a time like this, microorganisms are attracting attention as a key that can handle this couple of seemingly distant problems. KAIST (President Kwang-Hyung Lee) announced on the 26th that Kyeong Rok Choi, a research professor of the Bioprocess Research Center and Sang Yup Lee, a Distinguished Professor of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, published a paper titled “Metabolic Engineering of Microorganisms for Food and Cosmetics Production” upon invitation by “Nature Reviews Bioengineering” to be published online published by Nature after peer review. ※ Paper title: Systems metabolic engineering of microorganisms for food and cosmetics production ※ Author information: Kyeong Rok Choi (first author) and Sang Yup Lee (corresponding author) Systems metabolic engineering is a research field founded by Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee of KAIST to more effectively develop microbial cell factories, the core factor of the next-generation bio industry to replace the existing chemical industry that relies heavily on petroleum. By applying a systemic metabolic engineering strategy, the researchers have developed a number of high-performance microbial cell factories that produce a variety of food and cosmetic compounds including natural substances like heme and zinc protoporphyrin IX compounds which can improve the flavor and color of synthetic meat, lycopene and β-carotene which are functional natural pigments that can be widely used in food and cosmetics, and methyl anthranilate, a grape-derived compound widely used to impart grape flavor in food and beverage manufacturing. In this paper written upon invitation by Nature, the research team covered remarkable cases of microbial cell factory that can produce amino acids, proteins, fats and fatty acids, vitamins, flavors, pigments, alcohols, functional compounds and other food additives used in various foods and cosmetics and the companies that have successfully commercialized these microbial-derived materials Furthermore, the paper organized and presents systems metabolic engineering strategies that can spur the development of industrial microbial cell factories that can produce more diverse food and cosmetic compounds in an eco-friendly way with economic feasibility. < Figure 1. Examples of production of food and cosmetic compounds using microbial cell factories > For example, by producing proteins or amino acids with high nutritional value through non-edible biomass used as animal feed or fertilizer through the microbial fermentation process, it will contribute to the increase in production and stable supply of food around the world. Furthermore, by contributing to developing more viable alternative meat, further reducing dependence on animal protein, it can also contribute to reducing greenhouse gases and environmental pollution generated through livestock breeding or fish farming. In addition, vanillin or methyl anthranilate, which give off vanilla or grape flavor, are widely added to various foods, but natural products isolated and refined from plants are low in production and high in production cost, so in most cases, petrochemicals substances derived from vanillin and methylanthranilic acid are added to food. These materials can also be produced through an eco-friendly and human-friendly method by borrowing the power of microorganisms. Ethical and resource problems that arise in producing compounds like Calmin (cochineal pigment), a coloring added to various cosmetics and foods such as red lipstick and strawberry-flavored milk, which must be extracted from cochineal insects that live only in certain cacti. and Hyaluronic acid, which is widely consumed as a health supplement, but is only present in omega-3 fatty acids extracted from shark or fish livers, can also be resolved when they can be produced in an eco-friendly way using microorganisms. KAIST Research Professor Kyeong Rok Choi, the first author of this paper, said, “In addition to traditional fermented foods such as kimchi and yogurt, foods produced with the help of microorganisms like cocoa butter, a base ingredient for chocolate that can only be obtained from fermented cacao beans, and monosodium glutamate, a seasoning produced through microbial fermentation are already familiar to us”. “In the future, we will be able to acquire a wider variety of foods and cosmetics even more easily produced in an eco-friendly and sustainable way in our daily lives through microbial cell factories.” he added. < Figure 2. Systems metabolic engineering strategy to improve metabolic flow in microbial cell factories > Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee said, “It is engineers’ mission to make the world a better place utilizing science and technology.” and added, “Continuous advancement and active use of systems metabolic engineering will contribute greatly to easing and resolving the problems arising from both the food crisis and the climate change." This research was carried out as a part of the “Development of Protein Production Technology from Inorganic Substances through Control of Microbial Metabolism System Project” (Project Leader: Kyeong Rok Choi, KAIST Research Professor) of the the Center for Agricultural Microorganism and Enzyme (Director Pahn-Shick Chang) supported by the Rural Development Administration and the “Development of Platform Technologies of Microbial Cell Factories for the Next-generation Biorefineries Project” (Project Leader: Sang Yup Lee, KAIST Distinguished Professor) of the Petroleum-Substitute Eco-friendly Chemical Technology Development Program supported by the Ministry of Science and ICT.
Synthetic sRNAs to knockdown genes in medical and industrial bacteria
Bacteria are intimately involved in our daily lives. These microorganisms have been used in human history for food such as cheese, yogurt, and wine, In more recent years, through metabolic engineering, microorganisms been used extensively as microbial cell factories to manufacture plastics, feed for livestock, dietary supplements, and drugs. However, in addition to these bacteria that are beneficial to human lives, pathogens such as Pneumonia, Salmonella, and Staphylococcus that cause various infectious diseases are also ubiquitously present. It is important to be able to metabolically control these beneficial industrial bacteria for high value-added chemicals production and to manipulate harmful pathogens to suppress its pathogenic traits. KAIST (President Kwang Hyung Lee) announced on the 10th that a research team led by Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee of the Department of Biochemical Engineering has developed a new sRNA tool that can effectively inhibit target genes in various bacteria, including both Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria. The research results were published online on April 24 in Nature Communications. ※ Thesis title: Targeted and high-throughput gene knockdown in diverse bacteria using synthetic sRNAs ※ Author information : Jae Sung Cho (co-1st), Dongsoo Yang (co-1st), Cindy Pricilia Surya Prabowo (co-author), Mohammad Rifqi Ghiffary (co-author), Taehee Han (co-author), Kyeong Rok Choi (co-author), Cheon Woo Moon (co-author), Hengrui Zhou (co-author), Jae Yong Ryu (co-author), Hyun Uk Kim (co-author) and Sang Yup Lee (corresponding author). sRNA is an effective tool for synthesizing and regulating target genes in E. coli, but it has been difficult to apply to industrially useful Gram-positive bacteria such as Bacillus subtilis and Corynebacterium in addition to Gram-negative bacteria such as E. coli. To address this issue, a research team led by Distinguished Professor Lee Sang Yup Lee of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at KAIST developed a new sRNA platform that can effectively suppress target genes in various bacteria, including both Gram-negative and positive bacteria. The research team surveyed thousands of microbial-derived sRNA systems in the microbial database, and eventually designated the sRNA system derived from 'Bacillus subtilis' that showed the highest gene knockdown efficiency, and designated it as “Broad-Host-Range sRNA”, or BHR-sRNA. A similar well-known system is the CRISPR interference (CRISPRi) system, which is a modified CRISPR system that knocks down gene expression by suppressing the gene transcription process. However, the Cas9 protein in the CRISPRi system has a very high molecular weight, and there have been reports growth inhibition in bacteria. The BHR-sRNA system developed in this study did not affect bacterial growth while showing similar gene knockdown efficiencies to CRISPRi. < Figure 1. a) Schematic illustration demonstrating the mechanism of syntetic sRNA b) Phylogenetic tree of the 16 Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacterial species tested for gene knockdown by the BHR-sRNA system. > To validate the versatility of the BHR-sRNA system, 16 different gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria were selected and tested, where the BHR-sRNA system worked successfully in 15 of them. In addition, it was demonstrated that the gene knockdown capability was more effective than that of the existing E. coli-based sRNA system in 10 bacteria. The BHR-sRNA system proved to be a universal tool capable of effectively inhibiting gene expression in various bacteria. In order to address the problem of antibiotic-resistant pathogens that have recently become more serious, the BHR-sRNA was demonstrated to suppress the pathogenicity by suppressing the gene producing the virulence factor. By using BHR-sRNA, biofilm formation, one of the factors resulting in antibiotic resistance, was inhibited by 73% in Staphylococcus epidermidis a pathogen that can cause hospital-acquired infections. Antibiotic resistance was also weakened by 58% in the pneumonia causing bacteria Klebsiella pneumoniae. In addition, BHR-sRNA was applied to industrial bacteria to develop microbial cell factories to produce high value-added chemicals with better production performance. Notably, superior industrial strains were constructed with the aid of BHR-sRNA to produce the following chemicals: valerolactam, a raw material for polyamide polymers, methyl-anthranilate, a grape-flavor food additive, and indigoidine, a blue-toned natural dye. The BHR-sRNA developed through this study will help expedite the commercialization of bioprocesses to produce high value-added compounds and materials such as artificial meat, jet fuel, health supplements, pharmaceuticals, and plastics. It is also anticipated that to help eradicating antibiotic-resistant pathogens in preparation for another upcoming pandemic. “In the past, we could only develop new tools for gene knockdown for each bacterium, but now we have developed a tool that works for a variety of bacteria” said Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee. This work was supported by the Development of Next-generation Biorefinery Platform Technologies for Leading Bio-based Chemicals Industry Project and the Development of Platform Technologies of Microbial Cell Factories for the Next-generation Biorefineries Project from NRF supported by the Korean MSIT.
The cause of disability in aged brain meningeal membranes identified
Due to the increase in average age, studies on changes in the brain following general aging process without serious brain diseases have also become an issue that requires in-depth studies. Regarding aging research, as aging progresses, ‘sugar’ accumulates in the body, and the accumulated sugar becomes a causative agent for various diseases such as aging-related inflammation and vascular disease. In the end, “surplus” sugar molecules attach to various proteins in the body and interfere with their functions. KAIST (President Kwang Hyung Lee), a joint research team of Professor Pilnam Kim and Professor Yong Jeong of the Department of Bio and Brain Engineering, revealed on the 15th that it was confirmed that the function of being the “front line of defense” for the cerebrocortex of the brain meninges, the layers of membranes that surrounds the brain, is hindered when 'sugar' begins to build up on them as aging progresses. Professor Kim's research team confirmed excessive accumulation of sugar molecules in the meninges of the elderly and also confirmed that sugar accumulation occurs mouse models in accordance with certain age levels. The meninges are thin membranes that surround the brain and exist at the boundary between the cerebrospinal fluid and the cortex and play an important role in protecting the brain. In this study, it was revealed that the dysfunction of these brain membranes caused by aging is induced by 'excess' sugar in the brain. In particular, as the meningeal membrane becomes thinner and stickier due to aging, a new paradigm has been provided for the discovery of the principle of the decrease in material exchange between the cerebrospinal fluid and the cerebral cortex. This research was conducted by the Ph.D. candidate Hyo Min Kim and Dr. Shinheun Kim as the co-first authors to be published online on February 28th in the international journal, Aging Cell. (Paper Title: Glycation-mediated tissue-level remodeling of brain meningeal membrane by aging) The meninges, which are in direct contact with the cerebrospinal fluid, are mainly composed of collagen, an extracellular matrix (ECM) protein, and are composed of fibroblasts, which are cells that produce this protein. The cells that come in contact with collagen proteins that are attached with sugar have a low collagen production function, while the meningeal membrane continuously thins and collapses as the expression of collagen degrading enzymes increases. Studies on the relationship between excess sugar molecules accumulation in the brain due to continued sugar intake and the degeneration of neurons and brain diseases have been continuously conducted. However, this study was the first to identify meningeal degeneration and dysfunction caused by glucose accumulation with the focus on the meninges itself, and the results are expected to present new ideas for research into approach towards discoveries of new treatments for brain disease. Researcher Hyomin Kim, the first author, introduced the research results as “an interesting study that identified changes in the barriers of the brain due to aging through a convergent approach, starting from the human brain and utilizing an animal model with a biomimetic meningeal model”. Professor Pilnam Kim's research team is conducting research and development to remove sugar that accumulated throughout the human body, including the meninges. Advanced glycation end products, which are waste products formed when proteins and sugars meet in the human body, are partially removed by macrophages. However, glycated products bound to extracellular matrix proteins such as collagen are difficult to remove naturally. Through the KAIST-Ceragem Research Center, this research team is developing a healthcare medical device to remove 'sugar residue' in the body. This study was carried out with the National Research Foundation of Korea's collective research support. Figure 1. Schematic diagram of proposed mechanism showing aging‐related ECM remodeling through meningeal fibroblasts on the brain leptomeninges. Meningeal fibroblasts in the young brain showed dynamic COL1A1 synthetic and COL1‐interactive function on the collagen membrane. They showed ITGB1‐mediated adhesion on the COL1‐composed leptomeningeal membrane and induction of COL1A1 synthesis for maintaining the collagen membrane. With aging, meningeal fibroblasts showed depletion of COL1A1 synthetic function and altered cell–matrix interaction. Figure 2. Representative rat meningeal images observed in the study. Compared to young rats, it was confirmed that type 1 collagen (COL1) decreased along with the accumulation of glycated end products (AGE) in the brain membrane of aged rats, and the activity of integrin beta 1 (ITGB1), a representative receptor corresponding to cell-collagen interaction. Instead, it was observed that the activity of discoidin domain receptor 2 (DDR2), one of the tyrosine kinases, increased. Figure 3. Substance flux through the brain membrane decreases with aging. It was confirmed that the degree of adsorption of fluorescent substances contained in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to the brain membrane increased and the degree of entry into the periphery of the cerebral blood vessels decreased in the aged rats. In this study, only the influx into the brain was confirmed during the entry and exit of substances, but the degree of outflow will also be confirmed through future studies.
KAIST team develops smart immune system that can pin down on malignant tumors
A joint research team led by Professor Jung Kyoon Choi of the KAIST Department of Bio and Brain Engineering and Professor Jong-Eun Park of the KAIST Graduate School of Medical Science and Engineering (GSMSE) announced the development of the key technologies to treat cancers using smart immune cells designed based on AI and big data analysis. This technology is expected to be a next-generation immunotherapy that allows precision targeting of tumor cells by having the chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) operate through a logical circuit. Professor Hee Jung An of CHA Bundang Medical Center and Professor Hae-Ock Lee of the Catholic University of Korea also participated in this research to contribute joint effort. Professor Jung Kyoon Choi’s team built a gene expression database from millions of cells, and used this to successfully develop and verify a deep-learning algorithm that could detect the differences in gene expression patterns between tumor cells and normal cells through a logical circuit. CAR immune cells that were fitted with the logic circuits discovered through this methodology could distinguish between tumorous and normal cells as a computer would, and therefore showed potentials to strike only on tumor cells accurately without causing unwanted side effects. This research, conducted by co-first authors Dr. Joonha Kwon of the KAIST Department of Bio and Brain Engineering and Ph.D. candidate Junho Kang of KAIST GSMSE, was published by Nature Biotechnology on February 16, under the title Single-cell mapping of combinatorial target antigens for CAR switches using logic gates. An area in cancer research where the most attempts and advances have been made in recent years is immunotherapy. This field of treatment, which utilizes the patient’s own immune system in order to overcome cancer, has several methods including immune checkpoint inhibitors, cancer vaccines and cellular treatments. Immune cells like CAR-T or CAR-NK equipped with chimera antigen receptors, in particular, can recognize cancer antigens and directly destroy cancer cells. Starting with its success in blood cancer treatment, scientists have been trying to expand the application of CAR cell therapy to treat solid cancer. But there have been difficulties to develop CAR cells with effective killing abilities against solid cancer cells with minimized side effects. Accordingly, in recent years, the development of smarter CAR engineering technologies, i.e., computational logic gates such as AND, OR, and NOT, to effectively target cancer cells has been underway. At this point in time, the research team built a large-scale database for cancer and normal cells to discover the exact genes that are expressed only from cancer cells at a single-cell level. The team followed this up by developing an AI algorithm that could search for a combination of genes that best distinguishes cancer cells from normal cells. This algorithm, in particular, has been used to find a logic circuit that can specifically target cancer cells through cell-level simulations of all gene combinations. CAR-T cells equipped with logic circuits discovered through this methodology are expected to distinguish cancerous cells from normal cells like computers, thereby minimizing side effects and maximizing the effects of chemotherapy. Dr. Joonha Kwon, who is the first author of this paper, said, “this research suggests a new method that hasn’t been tried before. What’s particularly noteworthy is the process in which we found the optimal CAR cell circuit through simulations of millions of individual tumors and normal cells.” He added, “This is an innovative technology that can apply AI and computer logic circuits to immune cell engineering. It would contribute greatly to expanding CAR therapy, which is being successfully used for blood cancer, to solid cancers as well.” This research was funded by the Original Technology Development Project and Research Program for Next Generation Applied Omic of the Korea Research Foundation. Figure 1. A schematic diagram of manufacturing and administration process of CAR therapy and of cancer cell-specific dual targeting using CAR. Figure 2. Deep learning (convolutional neural networks, CNNs) algorithm for selection of dual targets based on gene combination (left) and algorithm for calculating expressing cell fractions by gene combination according to logical circuit (right).
KAIST presents a fundamental technology to remove metastatic traits from lung cancer cells
KAIST (President Kwang Hyung Lee) announced on January 30th that a research team led by Professor Kwang-Hyun Cho from the Department of Bio and Brain Engineering succeeded in using systems biology research to change the properties of carcinogenic cells in the lungs and eliminate both drug resistance and their ability to proliferate out to other areas of the body. As the incidences of cancer increase within aging populations, cancer has become the most lethal disease threatening healthy life. Fatality rates are especially high when early detection does not happen in time and metastasis has occurred in various organs. In order to resolve this problem, a series of attempts were made to remove or lower the ability of cancer cells to spread, but they resulted in cancer cells in the intermediate state becoming more unstable and even more malignant, which created serious treatment challenges. Professor Kwang-Hyun Cho's research team simulated various cancer cell states in the Epithelial-to-Mesenchymal Transition (EMT) of lung cancer cells, between epithelial cells without metastatic ability and mesenchymal cells with metastatic ability. A mathematical model of molecular network was established, and key regulators that could reverse the state of invasive and drug resistant mesenchymal cells back to the epithelial state were discovered through computer simulation analysis and molecular cell experiments. In particular, this process succeeded in properly reverting the mesenchymal lung cancer cells to a state where they were sensitive to chemotherapy treatment while avoiding the unstable EMT hybrid cell state in the middle process, which had remained a difficult problem. The results of this research, in which KAIST Ph.D. student Namhee Kim, Dr. Chae Young Hwang, Researcher Taeyoung Kim, and Ph.D. student Hyunjin Kim participated, were published as an online paper in the international journal “Cancer Research” published by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) on January 30th. (Paper title: A cell fate reprogramming strategy reverses epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition of lung cancer cells while avoiding hybrid states) Cells in an EMT hybrid state, which are caused by incomplete transitions during the EMT process in cancer cells, have the characteristics of both epithelial cells and mesenchymal cells, and are known to have high drug resistance and metastatic potential by acquiring high stem cell capacity. In particular, EMT is further enhanced through factors such as transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-β) secreted from the tumor microenvironment (TME) and, as a result, various cell states with high plasticity appear. Due to the complexity of EMT, it has been very difficult to completely reverse the transitional process of the mesenchymal cancer cells to an epithelial cell state in which metastatic ability and drug resistance are eliminated while avoiding the EMT hybrid cell state with high metastatic ability and drug resistance. Professor Kwang-Hyun Cho's research team established a mathematical model of the gene regulation network that governs the complex process of EMT, and then applied large-scale computer simulation analysis and complex system network control technology to identify and verify 'p53', 'SMAD4', and 'ERK1' and 'ERK 2' (collectively ERKs) through molecular cell experiments as the three key molecular targets that can transform lung cancer cells in the mesenchymal cell state, reversed back to an epithelial cell state that no longer demonstrates the ability to metastasize, while avoiding the EMT hybrid cell state. In particular, by analyzing the molecular regulatory mechanism of the complex EMT process at the system level, the key pathways were identified that were linked to the positive feedback that plays an important role in completely returning cancer cells to an epithelial cell state in which metastatic ability and drug resistance are removed. This discovery is significant in that it proved that mesenchymal cells can be reverted to the state of epithelial cells under conditions where TGF-β stimulation are present, like they are in the actual environment where cancer tissue forms in the human body. Abnormal EMT in cancer cells leads to various malignant traits such as the migration and invasion of cancer cells, changes in responsiveness to chemotherapy treatment, enhanced stem cell function, and the dissemination of cancer. In particular, the acquisition of the metastatic ability of cancer cells is a key determinant factor for the prognosis of cancer patients. The EMT reversal technology in lung cancer cells developed in this research is a new anti-cancer treatment strategy that reprograms cancer cells to eliminate their high plasticity and metastatic potential and increase their responsiveness to chemotherapy. Professor Kwang-Hyun Cho said, "By succeeding in reversing the state of lung cancer cells that acquired high metastatic traits and resistance to drugs and reverting them to a treatable epithelial cell state with renewed sensitivity to chemotherapy, the research findings propose a new strategy for treatments that can improve the prognosis of cancer patients.” Professor Kwang-Hyun Cho's research team was the first to present the principle of reversal treatment to revert cancer cells to normal cells, following through with the announcement of the results of their study that reverted colon cancer cells to normal colon cells in January of 2020, and also presenting successful re-programming research where the most malignant basal type breast cancer cells turned into less-malignant luminal type breast cancer cells that were treatable with hormonal therapies in January of 2022. This latest research result is the third in the development of reversal technology where lung cancer cells that had acquired metastatic traits returned to a state in which their metastatic ability was removed and drug sensitivity was enhanced. This research was carried out with support from the Ministry of Science and ICT and the National Research Foundation of Korea's Basic Research in Science & Engineering Program for Mid-Career Researchers. < Figure 1. Construction of the mathematical model of the regulatory network to represent the EMT phenotype based on the interaction between various molecules related to EMT. (A) Professor Kwang-Hyun Cho's research team investigated numerous literatures and databases related to complex EMT, and based on comparative analysis of cell line data showing epithelial and mesenchymal cell conditions, they extracted key signaling pathways related to EMT and built a mathematical model of regulatory network (B) By comparing the results of computer simulation analysis and the molecular cell experiments, it was verified how well the constructed mathematical model simulated the actual cellular phenomena. > < Figure 2. Understanding of various EMT phenotypes through large-scale computer simulation analysis and complex system network control technology. (A) Through computer simulation analysis and experiments, Professor Kwang-Hyun Cho's research team found that complete control of EMT is impossible with single-molecule control alone. In particular, through comparison of the relative stability of attractors, it was revealed that the cell state exhibiting EMT hybrid characteristics has unstable properties. (B), (C) Based on these results, Prof. Cho’s team identified two feedbacks (positive feedback consisting of Snail-miR-34 and ZEB1-miR-200) that play an important role in avoiding the EMT hybrid state that appeared in the TGF-β-ON state. It was found through computer simulation analysis that the two feedbacks restore relatively high stability when the excavated p53 and SMAD4 are regulated. In addition, molecular cell experiments demonstrated that the expression levels of E-cad and ZEB1, which are representative phenotypic markers of EMT, changed similarly to the expression profile in the epithelial cell state, despite the TGF-β-ON state. > < Figure 3. Complex molecular network analysis and discovery of reprogramming molecular targets for intact elimination of EMT hybrid features. (A) Controlling the expression of p53 and SMAD4 in lung cancer cell lines was expected to overcome drug resistance, but contrary to expectations, chemotherapy responsiveness was not restored. (B) Professor Kwang-Hyun Cho's research team additionally analyzed computer simulations, genome data, and experimental results and found that high expression levels of TWIST1 and EPCAM were related to drug resistance. (C) Prof. Cho’s team identified three key molecular targets: p53, SMAD4 and ERK1 & ERK2. (D), (E) Furthermore, they identified a key pathway that plays an important role in completely reversing into epithelial cells while avoiding EMT hybrid characteristics, and confirmed through network analysis and attractor analysis that high stability of the key pathway was restored when the proposed molecular target was controlled. > < Figure 4. Verification through experiments with lung cancer cell lines. When p53 was activated and SMAD4 and ERK1/2 were inhibited in lung cancer cell lines, (A), (B) E-cad protein expression increased and ZEB1 protein expression decreased, and (C) mesenchymal cell status including TWIST1 and EPCAM and gene expression of markers related to stem cell potential characteristics were completely inhibited. In addition, (D) it was confirmed that resistance to chemotherapy treatment was also overcome as the cell state was reversed by the regulated target. > < Figure 5. A schematic representation of the research results. Prof. Cho’s research team identified key molecular regulatory pathways to avoid high plasticity formed by abnormal EMT of cancer cells and reverse it to an epithelial cell state through systems biology research. From this analysis, a reprogramming molecular target that can reverse the state of mesenchymal cells with acquired invasiveness and drug resistance to the state of epithelial cells with restored drug responsiveness was discovered. For lung cancer cells, when a drug that enhances the expression of p53, one of the molecular targets discovered, and inhibits the expression of SMAD4 and ERK1 & ERK2 is administered, the molecular network of genes in the state of mesenchymal cells is modified, eventually eliminating metastatic ability and it is reprogrammed to turn into epithelial cells without the resistance to chemotherapy treatments. >
Afternoon chemotherapy proved to deliver more desirable results for female lymphoma patients
Chemotherapy is a commonly used regimen for cancer treatment, but it is also a double-edged sword. While the drugs are highly effective at killing cancer cells, they are also notorious for killing healthy cells in the body. As such, minimizing the drug’s damage to the patient’s body is necessary for improving the prognosis of chemotherapy. Recently, “chrono-chemotherapy” have been gaining interest in the research community. As the name suggests, the aim is timing the delivery of the drugs when the body is least vulnerable to their harmful effects and while the cancer cells are at their most vulnerable. < Figure 1. Chrono-chemotherapy considering circadian rhythm > Chrono-chemotherapy exploits the fact that human physiological processes, including cell proliferation and differentiation, are regulated by an endogenous timer called the circadian clock. However, this has not been widely exploited in real-world clinical settings because, as of now, there is no systematic method for finding the optimal chemotherapy delivery time. This problem was tackled by an interdisciplinary team of researchers from South Korea. They were led by principal investigators Jae Kyoung Kim (a mathematician from the Biomedical Mathematics Group, Institute for Basic Science) and Youngil Koh (an oncologist at Seoul National University Hospital). The researchers studied a group of patients suffering from diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL). Terminology * Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL): Lymphoma is a type of blood cancer caused by the malignant transformation of lymphoid tissue cells. Lymphoma is divided into Hodgkin's lymphoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (malignant lymphoma), and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma accounts for about 30 to 40% of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The research team noticed that DLBCL patients at Seoul National University Hospital received chemotherapy on two different schedules, with some patients receiving morning treatment (8:30 a.m.) and others taking the drugs in the afternoon (2:30 p.m.). All patients received the same cancer treatment (R-CHOP), which is a combination of targeted therapy and chemotherapy, four to six times in the morning or afternoon at intervals of about three weeks. They analyzed 210 patients to investigate whether there was any difference between morning and afternoon treatments. It was found that female patients who received the afternoon treatment had a 12.5 times reduced mortality rate (25% to 2%), while the cancer recurrence after 60 months decreased by 2.8 times (37% to 13%). In addition, chemotherapy side effects such as neutropenia were more common in female patients who received the morning treatment. Surprisingly, there was no differences found in treatment efficiency depending on the treatment schedule in the cases of male patients. To understand the cause of the gender differences, the research team analyzed upto 14,000 blood samples from the Seoul National University Hospital Health Examination Center. It was found that in females, white blood cell counts tended to decrease in the morning and increase in the afternoon. This indicates that the bone marrow proliferation rate was higher in the morning than in the afternoon because there is a upto 12 hour delay between bone marrow proliferation and blood cell production. This means that if a female patient receives chemotherapy in the morning when bone marrow is actively producing blood cells, the possibility of adverse side effects becomes greater. These results are consistent with the findings from recent randomized clinical trials that showed female colorectal cancer patients treated with irinotecan in the morning suffered from higher drug toxicities. One confounding variable was the drug dose. Since the morning female patients suffered from greater adverse side effects, oftentimes the dose had to be reduced for these patients. On average, the drug dose was reduced by upto 10% compared to the dose intensity given to female patients receiving the afternoon treatment. Unlike the female patients, it was found that male patients did not show a significant difference in white blood cell count and bone marrow cell proliferation activity throughout the day, which explains why the timing of the treatment had no impact. Professor Youngil Koh said, “We plan to verify the conclusions of this study again with a large-scale follow-up study that completely controls for the confounding variables, and to confirm whether chrono-chemotherapy has similar effects on other cancers.” CI Jae Kyoung Kim said, “Because the time of the internal circadian clock can vary greatly depending on the individual's sleep-wake patterns, we are currently developing a technology to estimate a patient’s circadian clock from their sleep pattern. We hope that this can be used to develop an individualized anti-cancer chronotherapy schedule.” < Figure 2. Chemotherapy in the afternoon can improve treatment outcomes. > The daily fluctuation of proliferative activity of bone marrow is larger in females than in males, and it becomes higher in the morning (left). Thus, chemotherapy in the morning strongly inhibits proliferative activity in female lymphoma patients, resulting in a higher incidence of adverse events such as neutropenia and infections. This forced the clinicians to reduce the dose intensity (center). Consequently, female patients undergoing the morning treatment showed a lower survival probability than those undergoing the afternoon treatment (right). Specifically, only ~13% of female patients treated in the afternoon had a worse outcome and ~2% of them died while ~37% of female patients treated in the morning had a worse outcome and ~25% of them died. Male patients did not show any difference in treatment outcomes depending on the chemotherapy delivery time.
Overview of the 30-year history of metabolic engineering
< Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at KAIST > A research team comprised of Gi Bae Kim, Dr. So Young Choi, Dr. In Jin Cho, Da-Hee Ahn, and Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at KAIST reported the 30-year history of metabolic engineering, highlighting examples of recent progress in the field and contributions to sustainability and health. Their paper “Metabolic engineering for sustainability and health” was published online in the 40th anniversary special issue of Trends in Biotechnology on January 10, 2023. Metabolic engineering, a discipline of engineering that modifies cell phenotypes through molecular and genetic-level manipulations to improve cellular activities, has been studied since the early 1990s, and has progressed significantly over the past 30 years. In particular, metabolic engineering has enabled the engineering of microorganisms for the development of microbial cell factories capable of efficiently producing chemicals and materials as well as degrading recalcitrant contaminants. This review article revisited how metabolic engineering has advanced over the past 30 years, from the advent of genetic engineering techniques such as recombinant DNA technologies to recent breakthroughs in systems metabolic engineering and data science aided by artificial intelligence. The research team highlighted momentous events and achievements in metabolic engineering, providing both trends and future directions in the field. Metabolic engineering’s contributions to bio-based sustainable chemicals and clean energy, health, and bioremediation were also reviewed. Finally, the research team shared their perspectives on the future challenges impacting metabolic engineering than must be overcome in order to achieve advancements in sustainability and health. Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee said, “Replacing fossil resource-based chemical processes with bio-based sustainable processes for the production of chemicals, fuels, and materials using metabolic engineering has become our essential task for the future. By looking back on the 30+ years of metabolic engineering, we aimed to highlight the contributions of metabolic engineering to achieve sustainability and good health.” He added, “Metabolic engineering will play an increasingly important role as a key solution to the climate crisis, environmental pollution, food and energy shortages, and health problems in aging societies.” < Figure: Metabolic Engineering Timeline >
KAIST develops biocompatible adhesive applicable to hair transplants
Aside from being used as a new medical adhesive, the new material can be applied to developing a new method of hair transplants, which cannot be repeated multiple times using current method of implanting the wholly intact follicles into the skin. Medical adhesives are materials that can be applied to various uses such as wound healing, hemostasis, vascular anastomosis, and tissue engineering, and is expected to contribute greatly to the development of minimally invasive surgery and organ transplants. However, adhesives with high adhesion, low toxicity, and capable of decomposing in the body are rare. Adhesives based on natural proteins, such as fibrin and collagen, have high biocompatibility but insufficient adhesive strength. Synthetic polymer adhesives based on urethane or acrylic have greater adhesion but do not decompose well and may cause an inflammatory reaction in the body. A joint research team led by Professor Myungeun Seo and Professor Haeshin Lee from the KAIST Department of Chemistry developed a bio-friendly adhesive from biocompatible polymers using tannic acid, the source of astringency in wine. The research team focused on tannic acid, a natural polyphenolic product. Tannic acid is a polyphenol present in large amounts in fruit peels, nuts, and cacao. It has a high affinity and coating ability on other substances, and we sense the astringent taste in wine when tannic acid sticks to the surface of our tongue. When tannic acid is mixed with hydrophilic polymers, they form coacervates, or small droplets of jelly-like fluids that sink. If the polymers used are biocompatible, the mixture can be applied as a medical adhesive with low toxicity. However, coacervates are fundamentally fluid-like and cannot withstand large forces, which limits their adhesive capabilities. Thus, while research to utilize it as an adhesive has been actively discussed, a biodegradable material exhibiting strong adhesion due to its high shear strength has not yet been developed. The research team figured out a way to enhance adhesion by mixing two biocompatible FDA-approved polymers, polyethylene glycol (PEG) and polylactic acid (PLA). While PEG, which is used widely in eyedrops and cream, is hydrophilic, PLA, a well-known bioplastic derived from lactic acid, is insoluble in water. The team combined the two into a block copolymer, which forms hydrophilic PLA aggregates in water with PEG blocks surrounding them. A coacervate created by mixing the micelles and tannic acid would behave like a solid due to the hard PLA components, and show an elastic modulus improved by a thousand times compared to PEG, enabling it to withstand much greater force as an adhesive. Figure 1. (Above) Principle of biodegradable adhesive made by mixing poly(ethylene glycol)-poly(lactic acid) diblock copolymer and tannic acid in water. Yellow coacervate is precipitated through hydrogen bonding between the block copolymer micelles and tannic acid, and exhibits adhesion. After heat treatment, hydrogen bonds are rearranged to further improve adhesion. (Bottom) Adhesion comparison. Compared to using poly(ethylene glycol) polymer (d), it can support 10 times more weight when using block copolymer (e) and 60 times more weight after heat treatment (f). The indicated G' values represent the elastic modulus of the material. Furthermore, the research team observed that the material’s mechanical properties can be improved by over a hundred times through a heating and cooling process that is used to heat-treat metals. They also discovered that this is due to the enforced interactions between micelle and tannic acid arrays. The research team used the fact that the material shows minimal irritation to the skin and decomposes well in the body to demonstrate its possible application as an adhesive for hair transplantation through an animal experiment. Professor Haeshin Lee, who has pioneered various application fields including medical adhesives, hemostatic agents, and browning shampoo, focused on the adhesive capacities and low toxicity of polyphenols like tannic acid, and now looks forward to it improving the limitations of current hair transplant methods, which still involve follicle transfer and are difficult to be repeated multiple times. Figure 2. (a) Overview of a hair transplantation method using a biodegradable adhesive (right) compared to a conventional hair transplantation method (left) that transplants hair containing hair follicles. After applying an adhesive to the tip of the hair, it is fixed to the skin by implanting it through a subcutaneous injection, and repeated treatment is possible. (b) Initial animal test results. One day after 15 hair transplantation, 12 strands of hair remain. If you pull the 3 strands of hair, you can see that the whole body is pulled up, indicating that it is firmly implanted into the skin. All strands of hair applied without the new adhesive material fell off, and in the case of adhesive without heat treatment, the efficiency was 1/7. This research was conducted by first co-authors Dr. Jongmin Park (currently a senior researcher at the Korea Research Institute of Chemical Technology) from Professor Myeongeun Seo’s team and Dr. Eunsook Park from Professor Haeshin Lee’s team in the KAIST Department of Chemistry, and through joint research with the teams led by Professor Hyungjun Kim from the KAIST Department of Chemistry and Professor Siyoung Choi from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. The research was published online on August 22 in the international journal Au (JACS Au) under the title Biodegradable Block Copolymer-Tannic Acid Glue. This study was funded by the Support Research Under Protection Project of the National Research Foundation (NRF), Leading Research Center Support Project (Research Center for Multiscale Chiral Structure), Biodegradable Plastics Commercialization and Demonstration Project by the Ministry of Trade and Industry, and institutional funding from the Korea Research Institute of Chemical Technology.
A KAIST Research Team Develops Diesel Reforming Catalyst Enabling Hydrogen Production for Future Mobile Fuel Cells
This catalyst capability allowing stable hydrogen production from commercial diesel is expected to be applied in mobile fuel cell systems in the future hydrogen economy On August 16, a joint research team led by Professors Joongmyeon Bae and Kang Taek Lee of KAIST’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Dr. Chan-Woo Lee of Korea Institute of Energy Research (KIER) announced the successful development of a highly active and durable reforming catalyst allowing hydrogen production from commercial diesel. Fuel reforming is a hydrogen production technique that extracts hydrogen from hydrocarbons through catalytic reactions. Diesel, being a liquid fuel, has a high storage density for hydrogen and is easy to transport and store. There have therefore been continuous research efforts to apply hydrogel supply systems using diesel reformation in mobile fuel cells, such as for auxiliary power in heavy trucks or air-independent propulsion (AIP) systems in submarines. However, diesel is a mixture of high hydrocarbons including long-chained paraffin, double-bonded olefin, and aromatic hydrocarbons with benzene groups, and it requires a highly active catalyst to effectively break them down. In addition, the catalyst must be extremely durable against caulking and sintering, as they are often the main causes of catalyst degradation. Such challenges have limited the use of diesel reformation technologies to date. The joint research team successfully developed a highly active and durable diesel reforming catalyst through elution (a heat treatment method used to uniformly grow active metals retained in an oxide support as ions in the form of metal nanoparticles), forming alloy nanoparticles. The design was based on the fact that eluted nanoparticles strongly interact with the support, allowing a high degree of dispersion at high temperatures, and that producing an alloy from dissimilar metals can increase the performance of catalysts through a synergistic effect. The research team introduced a solution combustion synthesis method to produce a multi-component catalyst with a trace amount of platinum (Pt) and ruthenium (Ru) penetrated into a ceria (CeO2) lattice, which is a structure commonly used as a support for catalysts in redox reactions. When exposed to a diesel reforming reaction environment, the catalyst induces Pt-Ru alloy nanoparticle formation upon Pt and Ru elution onto the support surface. In addition to the catalyst analysis, the research team also succeeded in characterizing the behaviour of active metal elution and alloy formation from an energetic perspective using a density functional theory-based calculation. In a performance comparison test between the Pt-Ru alloy catalyst against existing single-metal catalysts, the reforming activity was shown to have improved, as it showed a 100% fuel conversion rate even at a low temperature (600oC, compared to the original 800oC). In a long-term durability test (800oC, 200 hours), the catalyst showed commercial stability by successfully producing hydrogen from commercial diesel without performance degradation. The study was conducted by Ph.D. candidate Jaemyung Lee of KAIST’s Department of Mechanical Engineering as the first author. Ph.D. candidate Changho Yeon of KIER, Dr. Jiwoo Oh of KAIST’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, Dr. Gwangwoo Han of KIER, Ph.D. candidate Jeong Do Yoo of KAIST’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, and Dr. Hyung Joong Yun of the Korea Basic Science Institute contributed as co-authors. Dr. Chan-Woo Lee of KIER and Professors Kang Taek Lee and Joongmyeon Bae of KAIST’s Department of Mechanical Engineering contributed as corresponding authors. The research was published in the online version of Applied Catalysis B: Environmental (IF 24.319, JCR 0.93%) on June 17, under the title “Highly Active and Stable Catalyst with Exsolved PtRu Alloy Nanoparticles for Hydrogen Production via Commercial Diesel Reforming”. Professor Joongmyeon Bae said, “The fact that hydrogen can be stably produced from commercial diesel makes this a very meaningful achievement, and we look forward to this technology contributing to the active introduction of mobile fuel cell systems in the early hydrogen economy.” He added, “Our approach to catalyst design may be applied not only to reforming reactions, but also in various other fields.” This research was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea through funding from the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning. Figure. Schematic diagram of high-performance diesel reforming catalyst with eluted platinum-ruthenium alloy nanoparticles and long-term durability verification experiment results for commercial diesel reforming reaction
Interactive Map of Metabolical Synthesis of Chemicals
An interactive map that compiled the chemicals produced by biological, chemical and combined reactions has been distributed on the web - A team led by Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, organized and distributed an all-inclusive listing of chemical substances that can be synthesized using microorganisms - It is expected to be used by researchers around the world as it enables easy assessment of the synthetic pathway through the web. A research team comprised of Woo Dae Jang, Gi Bae Kim, and Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at KAIST reported an interactive metabolic map of bio-based chemicals. Their research paper “An interactive metabolic map of bio-based chemicals” was published online in Trends in Biotechnology on August 10, 2022. As a response to rapid climate change and environmental pollution, research on the production of petrochemical products using microorganisms is receiving attention as a sustainable alternative to existing methods of productions. In order to synthesize various chemical substances, materials, and fuel using microorganisms, it is necessary to first construct the biosynthetic pathway toward desired product by exploration and discovery and introduce them into microorganisms. In addition, in order to efficiently synthesize various chemical substances, it is sometimes necessary to employ chemical methods along with bioengineering methods using microorganisms at the same time. For the production of non-native chemicals, novel pathways are designed by recruiting enzymes from heterologous sources or employing enzymes designed though rational engineering, directed evolution, or ab initio design. The research team had completed a map of chemicals which compiled all available pathways of biological and/or chemical reactions that lead to the production of various bio-based chemicals back in 2019 and published the map in Nature Catalysis. The map was distributed in the form of a poster to industries and academia so that the synthesis paths of bio-based chemicals could be checked at a glance. The research team has expanded the bio-based chemicals map this time in the form of an interactive map on the web so that anyone with internet access can quickly explore efficient paths to synthesize desired products. The web-based map provides interactive visual tools to allow interactive visualization, exploration, and analysis of complex networks of biological and/or chemical reactions toward the desired products. In addition, the reported paper also discusses the production of natural compounds that are used for diverse purposes such as food and medicine, which will help designing novel pathways through similar approaches or by exploiting the promiscuity of enzymes described in the map. The published bio-based chemicals map is also available at http://systemsbiotech.co.kr. The co-first authors, Dr. Woo Dae Jang and Ph.D. student Gi Bae Kim, said, “We conducted this study to address the demand for updating the previously distributed chemicals map and enhancing its versatility.” “The map is expected to be utilized in a variety of research and in efforts to set strategies and prospects for chemical production incorporating bio and chemical methods that are detailed in the map.” Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee said, “The interactive bio-based chemicals map is expected to help design and optimization of the metabolic pathways for the biosynthesis of target chemicals together with the strategies of chemical conversions, serving as a blueprint for developing further ideas on the production of desired chemicals through biological and/or chemical reactions.” The interactive metabolic map of bio-based chemicals.
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