The Littlest Factories

From genes to enzymes, how cells make products we use

Cells are everywhere, from the trillions of cells that make up the organs and tissues in your own body to the vast multitude of plant cells and microbes all over the world

Living cells today have evolved over billions of years to perform remarkably complex functions that enable them to develop, grow and reproduce. 

In a sense, we can think of cells as tiny factories that make a variety of biologically important products such as ethanol, antibiotics and proteins. 

Much like a factory, a cell acquires raw materials, such as nutrients, and then processes those raw materials through special cellular ‘departments’ called organelles, where molecular machinery carries out specialised tasks to build the final molecular product. Those products are then transported within the cell to where they are needed or are exported out of the cells.

How we can use those little factories

Clostridia is a type of gut microbe that can convert dietary fibre into short chain fatty acids, such as butyrate, which is beneficial to your immune system.

Yet butyrate is also an industrially important molecule because, with a bit of chemical modification, it can be converted into valuable chemicals and biofuels. 

Importantly, butyrate-producing microbes can make this molecule much more easily and efficiently than it can be synthesised in a laboratory.   

For this reason, microbes such as Clostridium tyrobutyricum – a relative of common gut Clostridia – are used to efficiently produce large volumes of butyric acid for industrial use. When provided the right conditions and nutrients, large cultures of these microbes can be coaxed into producing massive volumes of butyrate, which can then be modified as needed.

Cell modification, The littlest factories, AIBN's Small Things Big Changes

 

 

Did You Know?

Microbial fermentation of grains and sugarcane is the most common production method for ethanol, a simple alcohol molecule that is now used in the production of plasticisers, synthetic fibres, dyes, lubricants, detergents, pesticides and more.

 

 

AIBN is raising funds to support the research and development of biotechnologies that will enable fast, large-scale production of valuable chemicals, medicines and vaccines. Funds are also being raised to support the development of remarkable nanoscale technologies and smart materials that can rapidly diagnose early stage disease, deliver treatments to precisely where they are needed in the body, and accurately monitor treatment effectiveness in real-time.

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Small Things Big Changes Volume 1: Advanced Biomanufacturing, AIBN. This article is an extract from AIBN's Small Things Big Changes Volume 1

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