Papers of the Week – 27th November

Welcome to our pick of papers and articles from last week. These are a collection of the synthetic biology papers that have captured our attention and that we think you should know about. Maybe you’ve seen some others you’d like to tell us about. Send us a comment or tweet us at @synbiobydesign. See last week’s papers here.

New platform to produce polyketide antibiotics

Synthetic chemistry knowledge applied to a biological system; the interdisciplinary nature of synthetic biology is evident in this paper. The metabolic pathway used by C. passeckerianus to produce the non-native product pluromutilin was characterised and rationally expressed in A. oryzae. The semi-synthetic pluromutilin had enhanced antibiotic activity but more importantly, this method of analysing the underlying chemistry and genetic mechanisms provides a platform for further discovery and expression of useful compounds.

New bases and codons for DNA

Two new bases have been incorporated into DNA to create a new codon and successfully transcribe and translate superfolder GFP. The team at MIT build on their previous paper (read it here) which was able to store the new DNA bases but grew poorly. The next form of life on our planet may be within reach!

Synthetic transcription factors to control RNA elongation

A collaborative team from universities in the US and India as well as industrial involvement, have designed synthetic transcription factors which use small molecules to engage the transcription complex. These new transcription factors allow RNA polymerase to express otherwise silenced proteins (such as frataxin in the neurodegenerative disease Friedreich’s ataxia) and allow control of the transcription process.

Visualising XNA transcription

Xeno-nucleic acid (XNA) polymers have non-natural backbone structures and belong to the field of synthetic genetics. This paper shows a beautiful prediction of the mechanism by which XNA is selected and elongated by a specially developed polymerase. The insights by the crystal structures will allow optimisation of the binding process to speed up catalysis.

High-throughput metagenomic screening for lignocellulose biocatalysts using E. coli. From:

Cellular biosensing for metagenomic screening

An E. coli cell has been transformed into a biosensor for useful products of lignocellulose breakdown using a GFP signal. This allows uncultivable bacteria to be screened for ability to metabolise lignocellulose before identification of the genes responsible. This application of synthetic biology could be at the forefront of chemical production very soon.

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