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Engineering bacteria to tolerate higher temperatures

By Scott Jenkins |

Vigorous microbial growth in bioreactors raises cell density, which is a source of heat stress and can hinder production efficiency. To address the issue, scientists have tried introducing genes for heat-shock proteins (HSPs) into workhorse industrial bacteria like Escherichia coli, but overexpression of those genes shuts down aspects of cell metabolism. A research team at the Beijing Institute of Technology (english.bit.edu.cn) has now developed a method for limiting bacterial density in bacterial strains equipped with HSP genes. The researchers created a gene network in which a set of genes designed for limiting cell density is activated when the temperature exceeds a certain threshold. That set of genes is then linked to another set that triggers programmed cell death. The result is a strain that grows well at elevated temperatures, but that maintains a more constant cell density, thus limiting heat stress. The researchers strain, called intelligent microbial heat-regulating engine (IMHeRE), showed the ability to produce five times more of the amino acid lysine (an animal-feed product) than a control strain of E. coli at the elevated temperature of 40°C.
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