Infectious diseases are the leading causes of death worldwide. The development of efficient and low cost prophylactics to prevent pathogenic infection is given high priority in the twenty-first century. Commensal bacteria are largely seen as harmless and can survive symbiotically (in many cases) in niches throughout the human body. Advances in genetic engineering and understanding of pathogenesis have revealed many potential strategies to develop engineered bacteria for prophylaxis purposes: including live vaccines and anti-infective agents. In this review we discuss recent advances and potentialities of prophylaxis with engineered bacteria.
In recent years, the use of nanomedicine formulations for therapeutic and diagnostic applications has increased exponentially. Many different systems and strategies have been developed for drug targeting to pathological sites, as well as for visualizing and quantifying important (patho-) physiological processes. In addition, ever more efforts have been undertaken to combine diagnostic and therapeutic properties within a single nanomedicine formulation. These so-called nanotheranostics are able to provide valuable information on drug delivery, drug release and drug efficacy, and they are considered to be highly useful for personalizing nanomedicine-based (chemo-) therapeutic interventions.
Fatty acid metabolism is an attractive route to produce liquid transportation fuels and commodity oleochemicals from renewable feedstocks. Recently, genes and enzymes, which comprise metabolic pathways for producing fatty acid-derived compounds (e.g. esters, alkanes, olefins, ketones, alcohols, polyesters) have been elucidated and used in engineered microbial hosts. The resulting strains often generate products at low percentages of maximum theoretical yields, leaving significant room for metabolic engineering. Economically viable processes will require strains to approach theoretical yields, particularly for replacement of petroleum-derived fuels. This review will describe recent progress toward this goal, highlighting the scientific discoveries of each pathway, ongoing biochemical studies to understand each enzyme, and metabolic engineering strategies that are being used to improve strain performance.
► The application of Pichia pastoris for biopharmaceutical production is described. ► Synthetic biology approaches and perspectives to improve production are reviewed. ► Glycoengineering efforts to produce humanized, uniform glycoproteins are covered. ► The design and application of synthetic promoter variants are highlighted. ► The molecular toolbox available for synthetic biology in P. pastoris is discussed.
Biopharmaceuticals are an integral part of modern medicine and pharmacy. Both, the development and the biotechnological production of biopharmaceuticals are highly cost-intensive and require suitable expression systems. In this review we discuss established and emerging tools for reengineering the methylotrophic yeast Pichia pastoris for biopharmaceutical production. Recent advancements of this industrial expression system through synthetic biology include synthetic promoters to avoid methanol induction and to fine-tune protein production. New platform strains and molecular cloning tools as well as in vivo glycoengineering to produce humanized glycoforms have made P. pastoris an important host for biopharmaceutical production.
The Lithistida sponges have been an important source of structurally complex natural products with potent biological activities. Examples of compounds marketed as biological markers along with recent advances in defining the modes of action and biomedical potential of lithistid derived compounds is presented.
The engineering of biological systems offers significant promise for advances in areas including health and medicine, chemical synthesis, energy production, and environmental sustainability. Realizing this potential requires tools that enable design of sophisticated genetic systems. The functional diversity of RNA makes it an attractive and versatile substrate for programming sensing, information processing, computation, and control functions. Recent advances in the design of synthetic RNA switches capable of detecting and responding to molecular and environmental signals enable dynamic modulation of gene expression through diverse mechanisms, including transcription, splicing, stability, RNA interference, and translation. Furthermore, implementation of these switches in genetic circuits highlights the potential for building synthetic cell systems targeted to applications in environmental remediation and next-generation therapeutics and diagnostics.
A major goal of biological research is to provide a mechanistic understanding of diverse biological processes. To this end, synthetic biology offers a powerful approach, whereby biological questions can be addressed in a well-defined framework. By constructing simple gene circuits, such studies have generated new insights into the design principles of gene regulatory networks. Recently, this strategy has been applied to analyzing ecological and evolutionary questions, where population-level interactions are critical. Here, we highlight recent development of such systems and discuss how they were used to address problems in ecology and evolutionary biology. As illustrated by these examples, synthetic ecosystems provide a unique platform to study ecological and evolutionary phenomena that are challenging to study in their natural contexts.
Human pluripotent stem cell (hPSC) differentiation aims to mimic development using growth factors or small molecules in a time- and dose-dependent manner. However, the cell types produced using this approach are predominantly fetal-like in phenotype and function, limiting their use in regenerative medicine. This is particularly true in current efforts to produce pancreatic beta cells, wherein robust pancreatic progenitor maturation can only be accomplished upon transplantation into mice. Recent studies have suggested that hPSC-derived cells are capable of self-organizing in vitro, revealing a new paradigm for creating mature cells and tissues. Tissue engineering strategies that provide subtle and dynamic signals to developmentally naïve cells may be applied to mimic in vitro the self-organization aspects of pancreatic development.
There has been a tremendous growth in the use of biomaterials serving as cellular scaffolds for tissue engineering applications. Recently, advanced material strategies have been developed to incorporate structural, mechanical, and biochemical signals that can interact with the cell and the in vivo environment in a biologically-specific manner. In this article, these strategies including the use of composite materials and material processing methods to better mimic the extracellular matrix, as well as integration of mechanical and topographical properties of materials in scaffold design, and incorporation of biochemical cues such cytokines in tethered, soluble, or time-released form are presented. Finally, the replication of the dynamic forces and biochemical gradients of the in vivo cellular environment through the use of microfluidics is highlighted.
The extremely thermoacidophilic archaea are a particularly intriguing group of microorganisms that must simultaneously cope with biologically extreme pHs (≤ 4) and temperatures (Topt ≥ 60°C) in their natural environments. Their expandi ng biotechnological significance relates to their role in biomining of base and precious metals and their unique mechanisms of survival in hot acid, at both the cellular and biomolecular levels. Recent developments, such as advances in understanding of heavy metal tolerance mechanisms, implementation of a genetic system, and discovery of a new carbon fixation pathway, have been facilitated by availability of genome sequence data and molecular genetic systems. As a result, new insights into the metabolic pathways and physiological features that define extreme thermoacidophily have been obtained, in some cases suggesting prospects for biotechnological opportunities.
extreme thermoacidophile; bioleaching; CO2 fixation; archaeal genetics
DNA transport is an essential life process. From chromosome separation during cell division or sporulation, to DNA virus ejection or encapsidation, to horizontal gene transfer, it is ubiquitous in all living organisms. Directed DNA translocation is often energetically unfavorable and requires an active process that uses energy, namely the action of molecular motors. In this review we present recent advances in the understanding of three molecular motors involved in DNA transport in prokaryotes, paying special attention to recent studies using single-molecule techniques. We first discuss DNA transport during cell division, then packaging of DNA in phage capsids, and then DNA import during bacterial transformation.
Biological systems can now be understood in comprehensive and quantitative detail using systems biology approaches. Putative genome-scale models can be built rapidly based upon biological inventories and strategic system-wide molecular measurements. Current models combine statistical associations, causative abstractions, and known molecular mechanisms to explain and predict quantitative and complex phenotypes. This top-down ‘reverse engineering’ approach generates useful organism-scale models despite noise and incompleteness in data and knowledge. Here we review and discuss the reverse engineering of biological systems using top-down data-driven approaches, in order to improve discovery, hypothesis generation, and the inference of biological properties.
Whole genome amplification and next-generation sequencing of single cells has become a powerful approach for studying uncultivated microorganisms that represent 90–99 % of all environmental microbes. Single cell sequencing enables not only the identification of microbes but also linking of functions to species, a feat not achievable by metagenomic techniques. Moreover, it allows the analysis of low abundance species that may be missed in community-based analyses. It has also proved very useful in complementing metagenomics in the assembly and binning of single genomes. With the advent of drastically cheaper and higher throughput sequencing technologies, it is expected that single cell sequencing will become a standard tool in studying the genome and transcriptome of microbial communities.
The conversion of biomass to CH4 (biomethanation) involves an anaerobic microbial food chain composed of at least three metabolic groups of which the first two decompose the complex biomass primarily to acetate, formate, and H2. The thermodynamics of these conversions are unfavorable requiring a symbiosis with the CH4-producing group (methanogens) that metabolize the decomposition products to favorable concentrations. The methanogens produce CH4 by two major pathways, conversion of the methyl group of acetate and reduction of CO2 coupled to the oxidation of formate or H2. This review covers recent advances in the fundamental understanding of both methanogenic pathways with the view of stimulating research towards improving the rate and reliability of the overall biomethanation process.
The vital nature of metal uptake and balance in biology is evident in the highly evolved strategies to facilitate metal homeostasis in all three domains of life. Several decades of study on metals and metalloproteins have revealed numerous essential bio-metal functions. Recent advances in mass spectrometry, x-ray scattering/absorption, and proteomics have exposed a much broader usage of metals in biology than expected. Even elements such as uranium, arsenic, and lead are implicated in biological processes as part of an emerging and expansive view of bio-metals. Here we discuss opportunities and challenges for established and newer approaches to study metalloproteins with a focus on technologies that promise to rapidly expand our knowledge of metalloproteins and metal functions in biology.
metallomics; metalloproteomics; metalloproteins; biometals
A mechanistic understanding of gene regulatory network dynamics requires quantitative single-cell data of multiple network components in response to well-defined perturbations. Recent advances in the development of fluorescent biomarkers for proteins, detection of RNA and interactions, microfluidic technology, and high-resolution imaging have set the stage for a host of new studies that elucidate the important roles of stochasticity and cell-cell variability in response to external perturbations. In this review, we briefly describe methods for high-resolution visualization and the control of gene expression, along with application of these novel methods to recent studies involving gene networks.
single-cell imaging; microfluidics; gene networks
The vast number of microbial sequences resulting from sequencing efforts using new technologies require us to re-assess currently available analysis methodologies and tools. Here we describe trends in the development and distribution of software for analyzing microbial sequence data. We then focus on one widely used set of methods, dimensionality reduction techniques, which allow users to summarize and compare these vast datasets. We conclude by emphasizing the utility of formal software engineering methods for development of computational biology tools, and the need for new algorithms for comparing microbial communities. Such large-scale comparisons will allow us to fulfill the dream of rapid integration and comparison of microbial sequence data sets, in a replicable analytical environment, in order to describe the microbial world we inhabit.
Heterogeneity of cellular systems has been widely recognized but only recently have tools become available that allow probing of genes and proteins in single cells to understand it. While the advancement in single cell genomic analysis has been greatly aided by the power of amplification techniques (e.g., PCR), analysis of proteins in single cells has proven to be more challenging. However, recent advances in multi-parameter flow cytometry, microfluidics and other techniques have made it possible to measure wide variety of proteins in single cells. In this review, we highlight key recent developments in analysis of proteins in a single cell, and discuss their significance in biological research.
Glycosyltransferases (GTs) are ubiquitous in nature and are required for the transfer of sugars to a variety of important biomolecules. This essential enzyme family has been a focus of attention from both the perspective of a potential drug target as well as a catalyst for the development of vaccines, biopharmaceuticals and small molecule therapeutics. This review attempts to consolidate the emerging lessons from Leloir (nucleotide-dependent) GT structural biology studies and recent applications of these fundamentals toward rational engineering of glycosylation catalysts.
Several nanoparticle platforms are currently being developed for applications in medicine, including both synthetic materials and naturally-occurring bionanomaterials such as viral nanoparticles (VNPs) and their genome-free counterparts, virus-like particles (VLPs). A broad range of genetic and chemical engineering methods have been established that allow VNP/VLP formulations to carry large payloads of imaging reagents or drugs. Furthermore, targeted VNPs and VLPs can be generated by including peptide ligands on the particle surface. In this article, we highlight state-of-the-art virus engineering principles and discuss recent advances that bring potential biomedical applications a step closer. Viral nanotechnology has now come of age and it will not be long before these formulations assume a prominent role in the clinic.
viral nanoparticles; virus-like particles; bioconjugation; genetic engineering; vaccines; phage display; drug delivery; imaging; tissue targeting
Until recently, the study of microbial diversity has mainly been limited to descriptive approaches, rather than predictive model-based analyses. The development of advanced analytical tools and decreasing cost of high-throughput multi-omics technologies has made the later approach more feasible. However, consensus is lacking as to which spatial and temporal scales best facilitate understanding of the role of microbial diversity in determining both public and environmental health. Here, we review the potential for combining these new technologies with both traditional and nascent spatio-temporal analysis methods. The fusion of proper spatio-temporal sampling, combined with modern multi-omics and computational tools, will provide insight into the tracking, development and manipulation of microbial communities.
Protein engineering of cytochrome P450 monooxygenases (P450s) has been very successful in generating valuable non-natural activities and properties, allowing these powerful catalysts to be used for the synthesis of drug metabolites and in biosynthetic pathways for the production of precursors of artemisinin and paclitaxel. Collected experience indicates that the P450s are highly 'evolvable'--they are particularly robust to mutation in their active sites and readily accept new substrates and exhibit new selectivities. Their ability to adapt to new challenges upon mutation may reflect the nonpolar nature of their active sites as well as their high degree of conformational variability.
Current progress in computational structure-based protein design is reviewed in the areas of methodology and applications. Foundational advances include new potential functions, more efficient ways of computing energetics, flexible treatments of solvent, and useful energy function approximations, as well as ensemble-based approaches to scoring designs for inclusion of entropic effects, improvements to guaranteed and to stochastic search techniques, and development of methods to design combinatorial libraries for screening and selection. Applications include new approaches and successes in the design of specificity for protein folding, binding, and catalysis, in the redesign of proteins for enhanced binding affinity, and in the application of design technology to study and alter enzyme catalysis. Computational protein design continues to mature and its future is bright.
Development of a rice variety enriched in provitamin A, the accumulation of polyhydroxybutyrate polyester in Arabidopsis nuclear transgenic plants (with enzymes targeted to chloroplasts in both), and the expression of bacterial operons via the chloroplast genome are recent landmark achievements in multigene engineering. Hyper-expression of transgenes has resulted in the formation of insecticidal protein crystals or inclusion bodies of pharmaceutical proteins in transgenic chloroplasts, achieving the highest level of transgene expression ever reported in transgenic plants. These achievements illustrate the potential of multigene engineering to realize benefits of the post-genomic revolution.
Small molecules produced in Nature continue to be an inspiration for the development of new therapeutic agents. These natural products possess exquisite chemical diversity, which gives rise to their wide range of biological activities. In their host organism, natural products are assembled and modified by dedicated biosynthetic pathways that Nature has meticulously developed. Often times, the complex structures or chemical modifications instated by these pathways are difficult to replicate using traditional synthetic methods. An alternative approach for creating or enhancing the structural variation of natural products is through combinatorial biosynthesis. By rationally reprogramming and manipulating the biosynthetic machinery responsible for their production, unnatural metabolites that were otherwise inaccessible can be obtained. Additionally, new chemical structures can be synthesized or derivatized by developing the enzymes that carry out these complicated chemical reactions into biocatalysts. In this review, we will discuss a variety of combinatorial biosynthetic strategies, their technical challenges, and highlight some recent (since 2007) examples of rationally designed unnatural metabolites, as well as platforms that have been established for the production and modification of clinically important pharmaceutical compounds.