4th New Phytologist Workshop: SynBio toolbox for secondary metabolite synthesis

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Published on: June 20, 2012

The objective of much of the work presented at the 4th Annual New Phytologist Workshop was a ‘SynBio Toolbox’. The intended aim is that these toolboxes can be used to make anything the user wants, be it a novel antibiotic, chemical cell, or micromachine. The most important characteristic of all the ‘toolboxes’ was that the components must be orthologous – the pieces, or tools, must be useful for a wide variety of end products, so interchangeable within certain parameters

Eriko Takano’s group at the University of Groningen have taken on the much-needed but unenviable task of making a ‘toolbox’ of antibiotic synthesis genes. Their oracle is an online tool they developed called antiSMASH, which finds and annotates secondary metabolite biosynthesis gene clusters in a DNA sequence. Once the genes are identified in silico, they can be found and manipulated in vivo. The Takano group successfully used this method to re-awaken the cryptic CPK gene cluster and discover two novel compounds with anti-bacterial activity.

The concept is that once an extensive enough range of modules from antibiotic biosynthesis gene clusters are characterised, a researcher wanting to make a custom antibiotic can pick the domains they want, put them together with a promotor, insert the novel construct into a screening host, and then eventually into an expression host.

antiSMASH will identify and annotate secondary metabolite biosynthesis genes in plant genome sequences, so maybe finding and using the necessary genes to modify, eliminate or up-regulate that elusive compound in your plants is possible after all. Why stop at changing naturally occurring plant compounds? It may be feasible to engineer a whole new pathway into Arabidopsis if the genes required can be identified and cloned more easily with this new software.



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  1. […] It was obvious that plant synthetic biology is not yet as sophisticated as synthetic chemistry and microbiology, and the reasons were implied in many of the talks. Plants are multi-cellular, have weeks-long life […]

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