Usually we hear about E. coli bacteria when there's an outbreak of food poisoning. But now a group of engineers have turned these disease-causing bugs into a "production platform" for antibiotics.
Genetic engineers have been trying for a while to tweak the genes of E. coli so that they'll produce the powerful antibiotic erythromycin A, which is used to cure infections. Producing erythromycin A has historically been a costly and difficult process. But if E. coli can reliably produce the medicine, researchers say it would be a major breakthrough - not just for companies who want to produce erythromycin A more cheaply, but also for other engineers hoping to use E. coli to synthesize other medicines as well.
Science Daily reports:
The bacterium Saccharopolyspora erythraea, which is found in the soil, naturally produces several variants of erythromycin. Erythromycin A is the most common and most biologically active.
Because of the challenges associated with engineering Saccharopolyspora erythraea, researchers have hoped to achieve the complete production of erythromycin A using E. coli. More than 20 enzymes must work in concert to create the erythromycin A molecule. This genetic and biochemical complexity makes synthesis notoriously hard. Previous research had reported manufacture of erythromycin A intermediates in E. coli but not the final product.