Researchers from the University of Manchester have engineered a common gut bacterium by using robotics to produce a new class of antibiotics. within, these antibiotics are also naturally produced by soil bacteria and have antimicrobial properties which are very important in the contemporary pharmaceutical industry to combat cancer and infectious diseases.

As the naturally produced Escherichia coli bacteria grow in somewhat thick clumps, it’s difficult to work with them using the automated robotics used for modern bio-tech research. But by transferring the production machinery from soil bacteria into E. coli, the Manchester research team is now making this class of antibiotics available for much more speedy exploration.

This breakthrough could be crucial for the ongoing fight against antimicrobial resistance, as these recently developed automated robotics systems can now be used to make new antibiotics in a very efficient and fast way.

The research paper published in the journal PLOS Biology shows the potential of this approach.  The research team, led by Professor Takano combined the bacterial production machinery with enzymes from plants and fungi. It was then possible to produce new chemical compounds not previously seen in mother nature. Using this new plug-and-play platform, it will now be possible to engineer and explore polyketides using robotic systems to develop varied and new polyketides in a rapid, robotic, and versatile fashion.

Identification and expression of soluble KS/CLF heterodimers in E. coli – Source: PLOS Biology

Eriko Takano, Professor of Synthetic Biology, said: “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.”

According to the professor, the significant restriction faced in working with type II polyketides, a group of essential chemicals, which are mostly produced by soil bacteria and other microorganisms, is to grow them. By successfully moving the machinery for these compounds into the “laboratory workhorse” bacterium E. coli, it is easier to produce and engineer type II polyketides in rapid robotic systems.

“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 fungi and plants, 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,” said Takano.

Unlike the conventional system that takes a whole year to make and test the new potential antibiotics, this automated robotic system can make thousands in that time. This would greatly reduce the time it takes for new antibiotics to reach patients, and provide the necessary dexterity to react to new pathogen strains and outbreaks.

 

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