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University of Freiburg . 79085 Freiburg . Germany
Press Release
From Bacterium to Biofactory
Freiburg researchers develop genetic blueprint for organelles that
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give simple cells new functions
Fahnenbergplatz
D -79085 Freiburg
A research team including Dr. Stefan Schiller, his assistants Dr. Matthias
Huber and Dr. Andreas Schreiber, and further groups from Freiburg and
Contact:
Hungary has refuted a long-held assumption in biology: The scientists have
Nicolas Scherger
shown that it is not only possible to extend the functions of organelles –
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organs of the cell – but also to form them from scratch with the help of
nicolas.scherger@pr.uni-
genetic blueprints. The team published its findings in the journal Nature
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Materials.
Cells can be classified into two groups: simple cells, like bacteria, and higher
cells, such as those of plants, animals, and humans. They differ among
other things with regard to their internal structure: Higher cells contain
organelles that – like organs in the human body – serve special functions.
Mitochondria, for instance, provide energy, while the lysosomes of animal
cells and the vacuoles of plant cells are responsible for breaking down
substances.
Organelles are composed primarily of lipids – substances like fats and oils,
so-called secondary gene products for which there is no direct blueprint in
the genome. Instead, however, the scientists developed an approach using
amphiphilic proteins. Like lipids, they have both hydrophilic and hydrophobic
parts. Thanks to this property, they can self-assemble to form organelle-like
compartments inside the cell. The biosynthesis of proteins can be controlled
by a blueprint in the form of plasmid DNA. These double-stranded, usually
Freiburg, 28.01.2015
ring-shaped molecules are present in bacteria, thus enabling them to form
synthetic organelles.
The approach opens up new possibilities for the study of biomedical
processes as well as for applications in biotechnology, chemistry, and
pharmacy. “For the first time ever, we have succeeded in forming a new
organelle in the cell and equipping it with functions on the basis of rationally
designed protein building blocks. This is a fundamentally new approach for
biology, biotechnology, and medicine,” says Schiller. With the help of
chemical reactions that were previously impossible in the cell, scientists now
have new means at their disposal for producing biotechnological products.
The chemical industry in particular could utilize the functional extension of
bacterial cells to produce important starting materials for which there were
previously no biosynthetic strategies and methods available.
Schilller
was
awarded
the
research
prize
“Next
Generation
of
Biotechnological Methods – Biotechnology 2020+” from the Federal Ministry
of Education and Research last year to realize these ideas. He heads a
research group at the Center for Systems Biology (ZBSA) of the University
of Freiburg that combines chemical biology, organic synthesis, synthetic
biology, and new biomaterials with technical systems like microreactors and
with modern analytical methods. The team is collaborating with further
research groups at the ZBSA, the Faculty of Chemistry and Pharmacy, the
Faculty of Biology, the Department of Microsystems Engineering (IMTEK),
and the Cluster of Excellence BIOSS Centre for Biological Signalling Studies
of the University of Freiburg.
Press
release
on
the
research
prize
“Next
Generation
of
Biotechnological Methods – Biotechnology 2020+” for Stefan Schiller:
www.pr.uni-freiburg.de/pm/2014/pm.2014-11-24.127
Original publication:
Designer amphiphilic proteins as building blocks for the intracellular
formation of organelle-like compartments. In: Nature Materials 14, 125–132
(2015). doi:10.1038/nmat4118
The University of Freiburg achieves top positions in all university rankings. Its research, teaching, and
continuing education have received prestigious awards in nationwide competitions. Over 24,000
students from 100 nations are enrolled in 188 degree programs. Around 5,000 teachers and
administrative employees put in their effort every day – and experience that family friendliness, equal
opportunity, and environmental protection are more than just empty phrases here.
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Contact:
Dr. Stefan Schiller
Center for Systems Biology
University of Freiburg
Phone: +49 (0)761/203-97405
E-Mail: [email protected]
The University of Freiburg achieves top positions in all university rankings. Its research, teaching, and
continuing education have received prestigious awards in nationwide competitions. Over 24,000
students from 100 nations are enrolled in 188 degree programs. Around 5,000 teachers and
administrative employees put in their effort every day – and experience that family friendliness, equal
opportunity, and environmental protection are more than just empty phrases here.