First-of-its-kind hydrogel platform enables on-demand production of medicines, chemicals — ScienceDaily
A staff of chemical engineers has developed a brand new solution to produce medicines and chemicals on demand and protect them utilizing transportable “biofactories” embedded in water-based gels referred to as hydrogels. The method may assist individuals in distant villages or on navy missions, the place the absence of pharmacies, physician’s workplaces and even fundamental refrigeration makes it exhausting to entry important medicines, each day use chemicals and different small-molecule compounds.
Led by Hal Alper, professor at The University of Texas at Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering, in collaboration with chemist Alshakim Nelson and his analysis group on the University of Washington, this first-of-its-kind system successfully embeds microbial biofactories — cells bioengineered to overproduce a product — into the stable help of a hydrogel, permitting for portability and optimized production. It is the primary hydrogel-based system to prepare each particular person microbes and consortia for in-the-moment production of high-value chemical feedstocks, used for processes akin to gas production, and prescribed drugs. Products will be produced inside a pair of hours to some of days.
The staff describes their new method within the Feb. four difficulty of Nature Communications.
“We have taken a completely different angle for fermentation by utilizing hydrogels,” stated Alper, whose analysis experience is targeted in biotechnology and mobile engineering. “Many of the chemicals, fuels, nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals we use rely on traditional fermentation technology. Our technology addresses a strong limitation in the fields of synthetic biology and bioprocessing, namely the ability to provide a means for both on-demand and repeated-use production of chemicals and antibiotics from both mono- and co-cultures.”
As a crosslinked polymer, the hydrogel used on this work will be 3D printed or manually extruded. The gel materials, together with the cells inside, can stream like a liquid after which harden upon publicity to UV mild. Molecularly, the ensuing polymer community is giant sufficient for molecules and proteins to maneuver by way of it, however the house is simply too small for cells to leak out.
The staff additionally discovered that by lyophilizing, or freeze-drying, the hydrogel system, it could successfully protect the fermentation capability of the biofactories till wanted sooner or later. The end result of the freeze-drying considerably resembles an historic mummy, shriveled up however well-preserved. To revive the hydrogel and allow the production of the chemical or pharmaceutical, one would merely add water, sugar and/or another fundamental vitamins, and the cells will then convert into the product simply as successfully as earlier than the preservation course of.
One of the novel facets enabled by this platform is the flexibility to mix a number of totally different organisms, referred to as consortia, collectively in a manner that outperforms conventional, large-scale bioreactors. In specific, this technique enables a plug-and-play method to combining and optimizing chemical production. For instance, if one set of enzymes works greatest within the micro organism E. coli, whereas the opposite works greatest within the yeast S. cerevisiae, the 2 organisms can work collectively to extra effectively go straight to the product. The analysis staff examined each of these organisms.
This platform has the additional advantage of multitasking, protecting differing types of cells separated whereas they develop, stopping one from taking on and killing off the others. Likewise, by testing a spread of temperatures, the staff was in a position to management the dynamics of the system, protecting the expansion of a number of cell sorts balanced.
Finally, the staff was in a position to present steady, repeated use of the system (with yeast cells) over the course of a whole 12 months with out a lower in yields, indicating the sustainability of the method over time.
Medicines akin to antibiotics have a sure shelf life and require specific storage situations. The portability of the biofactory to make these molecules makes the hydrogel system particularly helpful in distant locations, with out entry to refrigeration to retailer drugs. It would even be a small and compact solution to preserve entry to a number of drugs and different important chemicals when there isn’t a entry to a pharmacy or a retailer, like throughout a navy mission or a mission to Mars. Although not fairly there but, the probabilities are promising.
“This technology can be applied to a wide range of products and cell types. We see engineers and scientists being able to plug and play with different consortia of cells to produce diverse products that are needed for a specific scenario,” Alper stated. “That’s part of what makes this technology so exciting.”