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Bionic Bacteria: Superbug Potential For Organic Drugs And Biofuel

Aired 9/26/11 on KPBS News.

A Salk Institute researcher has created an artificially-enhanced germ that is capable of creating a hybrid of organic synthetic chemicals.

— A Salk Institute researcher has created an artificially-enhanced germ that is capable of creating a hybrid of organic synthetic chemicals.

Think of the genetically engineered germ as that of a microscopic manufacturing plant that has merged with a bacteria cell.

The result is a bacterial bionic wonder able to incorporate synthetic substances and transform them into new types of chemicals.

Its creator is Lei Wang, Ph.D., a researcher and assistant professor at Salk Institute’s Chemical Biology and Proteomics Laboratory.

Genetically altered bacteria have been used to make medicines in the past, for example synthetic insulin.

But Wang said this is the first time a bacterium has been able to absorb multiple artificial substances simultaneously — a change that could lead to a new breed of organic derived chemicals.

“The bacteria itself, it can make these molecules for us and these molecules can be chemicals, biofuels or drugs,” said Wang.

The hybrid chemicals born of bacteria are likely to reproduce quickly and naturally, making them more efficient and a renewable resource explained Wang.

“It’s green chemistry it is recyclable and renewable. It’s biosynthesis," Wang said.

Wang and his collaborators at the University of California, San Diego admit there is a lot more research to be done.

But he’s hopeful they are closer than ever before of transforming a super-bug into a super-powerful drug.

Comments

Avatar for user 'caffleck'

caffleck | September 25, 2011 at 2:23 p.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

This bacteria is great because not only is it good right now to create an alternative energy source, we can modify it slightly here and there to make any type of chemical we want, which means we can synthetically produce complicated drugs, or compounds that will cause harmful compounds in the earth's atmosphere to break down. I predict that in the future there will be many different types of bacteria that were created to produce many different things. It will be an industry that keeps growing for a while.

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