Berkeley Lab researchers develop gene-editing technique increasing biomanufacturing efficiency

Photo of researcher holding vile of rewired microbes
Marilyn Chung/Berkeley Lab/Courtesy
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researchers have discovered a way to modify microbes using the gene-editing tool CRISPR in a way that more efficiently produces a compound. According to the study, these findings will help increase and speed up bio-based material, fuel and chemical production.

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Researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, or Berkeley Lab, have found a more efficient technique to modify metabolic processes in microbes that has the potential to speed up biomanufacturing.

According to the study, which was published Oct. 23, this process will increase the production of bio-based materials, fuels and chemicals. Study co-author Thomas Eng added that synthetic biology can be used to address issues concerning renewable energy, such as finding sustainable molecules to replace petroleum and decreasing carbon emissions.

“Synthetic biology holds the potential to solve a number of existing and emerging crises,” Eng said in an email. “Future collaborations with UC Berkeley experts could really help address these intractable problems.”

Previously, researchers used “trial-and-error experiments” to identify significant gene modifications, according to study co-author Aindrila Mukhopadhyay. She added that this can take a long time, especially when the process is designed for a compound not native to the microbe.

“Microbe-based solutions in biotechnology are often the bottleneck steps when thinking about biomanufacturing as a holistic process,” said study co-author Deepanwita Banerjee in an email.

Mukhopadhyay said in an email that research and development for biomanufacturing processes would be “dramatically” sped up by the technique, allowing these bio-based products to reach consumers faster.

According to a Berkeley Lab press release, the study examined if inserting non-native genes for a compound into microbes would increase the microbe’s production of the compound. The researchers inserted the genome to create indigoidine, a viable alternative to dye and ink colorants, into the bacteria, the study added.

According to Mukhopadhyay, this technique, called product/substrate pairing, is developed around a recent genome scale modeling computational algorithm, which identifies genomewide strategies to allow the microbe to produce indigoidine or other desired compounds.

The researchers found that CRISPR interference enhanced the biomanufacturing process by enabling complex gene edits.

“We are proud of this accomplishment, but it is only the beginning,” Banerjee said in the email. “Now that CRISPR tools have been demonstrated to work in many organisms, we anticipate their widespread adoption.”

Maria Young is a higher education reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @maria_myoung.

A previous version of this article’s headline incorrectly stated the study was conducted by UC Berkeley researchers. In fact, it was conducted by Berkeley Lab researchers.