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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.
A powerful strategy for developing microbial cell factories by employing synthetic small RNAs
The current systems for the production of chemicals, fuels and materials heavily rely on the use of fossil resources. Due to the increasing concerns on climate change and other environmental problems, however, there has been much interest in developing biorefineries for the production of such chemicals, fuels and materials from renewable resources. For the biorefineries to be competitive with the traditional fossil resource-based refineries, development of high performance microorganisms is the most important as it will affect the overall economics of the process most significantly. Metabolic engineering, which can be defined as purposeful modification of cellular metabolic and regulatory networks with an aim to improve the production of a desired product, has been successfully employed to improve the performance of the cell. However, it is not trivial to engineer the cellular metabolism and regulatory circuits in the cell due to their high complexity. In metabolic engineering, it is important to find the genes that need to be amplified and attenuated in order to increase the product formation rate while minimizing the production of undesirable byproducts. Gene knock-out experiments are often performed to delete those metabolic fluxes that will consequently result in the increase of the desired product formation. However, gene knock-out experiments require much effort and time to perform, and are difficult to do for a large number of genes. Furthermore, the gene knock-out experiments performed in one strain cannot be transferred to another organism and thus the whole experimental process has to be repeated. This is a big problem in developing a high performance microbial cell factory because it is required to find the best platform strain among many different strains. Therefore, researchers have been eager to develop a strategy that allows rapid identification of multiple genes to be attenuated in multiple strains at the same time. A Korean research team led by Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee at the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) reported the development of a strategy for efficiently developing microbial cell factories by employing synthetic small RNAs (sRNAs). They first reported the development of such system in Nature Biotechnology last February. This strategy of employing synthetic sRNAs in metabolic engineering has been receiving great interest worldwide as it allows easy, rapid, high-throughput, tunable, and un-doable knock-down of multiple genes in multiple strains at the same time. The research team published a paper online on August 8 as a cover page (September issue) in Nature Protocols, describing the detailed strategy and protocol to employ synthetic sRNAs for metabolic engineering. In this paper, researchers described the detailed step-by-step protocol for synthetic sRNA-based gene expression control, including the sRNA design principles. Tailor-made synthetic sRNAs can be easily manipulated by using conventional gene cloning method. The use of synthetic sRNAs for gene expression regulation provides several advantages such as portability, conditionality, and tunability in high-throughput experiments. Plasmid-based synthetic sRNA expression system does not leave any scar on the chromosome, and can be easily transferred to many other host strains to be examined. Thus, the construction of libraries and examination of different host strains are much easier than the conventional hard-coded gene manipulation systems. Also, the expression of genes can be conditionally repressed by controlling the production of synthetic sRNAs. Synthetic sRNAs possessing different repression efficiencies make it possible to finely tune the gene expression levels as well. Furthermore, synthetic sRNAs allow knock-down of the expression of essential genes, which was not possible by conventional gene knock-out experiments. Synthetic sRNAs can be utilized for diverse experiments where gene expression regulation is needed. One of promising applications is high-throughput screening of the target genes to be manipulated and multiple strains simultaneously to enhance the production of chemicals and materials of interest. Such simultaneous optimization of gene targets and strains has been one of the big challenges in metabolic engineering. Another application is to fine tune the expression of the screened genes for flux optimization, which would enhance chemical production further by balancing the flux between biomass formation and target chemical production. Synthetic sRNAs can also be applied to finely regulating genetic interactions in a circuit or network, which is essential in synthetic biology. Once a sRNA scaffold-harboring plasmid is constructed, tailor-made, synthetic sRNAs can be made within 3-4 days, followed by the desired application experiments. Dr. Eytan Zlotorynski, an editor at Nature Protocols, said "This paper describes the detailed protocol for the design and applications of synthetic sRNA. The method, which has many advantages, is likely to become common practice, and prove useful for metabolic engineering and synthetic biology studies." This paper published in Nature Protocols will be useful for all researchers in academia and industry who are interested in the use of synthetic sRNAs for fundamental and applied biological and biotechnological studies. This work was supported by the Technology Development Program to Solve Climate Changes on Systems Metabolic Engineering for Biorefineries (NRF-2012-C1AAA001-2012M1A2A2026556) and the Intelligent Synthetic Biology Center through the Global Frontier Project (2011-0031963) of the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning through the National Research Foundation of Korea.
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