Plant protein mechanism incorporated in bacteria to analyze proteins in greater detail

March 29, 2023 | Biotechnology

Observing chloroplast proteins in finer detail and finding solutions to improve their function has been an objective that is already 50 years in the making. This goal was achieved by a team from the Australian National University (ANU) where they modified the protein folding properties of bacteria with the addition of multiple chloroplast components from plants.

The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign led RIPE (Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency) which focused on engineering crops that are more productive by enhancing photosynthesis. The study was conducted to understand and improve Rubisco - a plant protein found in chloroplasts which induces fixation of atmospheric carbon dioxide into sugars during photosynthesis. However, unlike the other proteins included in photosynthesis, Rubisco is slow and requires a number of partners to function properly. This led scientists to explore the possibility of speeding up plant Rubisco in Escherichia coli (E. coli), a common bacteria and a host often used in studying proteins.

The ANU team exhibited the utility of a robust, genetically modular, E.coli expression tool, which provides a new system to better suit the enhancement of Rubisco efficiency; this tool builds on the expression developed by Manajit Hayer-Hartl lab. 



Odoo text and image block
Odoo text and image block

According to Whitney, one of the professors in ANU’s Research School of Biology, even though the formation of the new bacterial bioengineering strategy was a long-term challenge, it was able to provide them unexpected experimental throughput with results available within just a few days. This was much better than the traditional testing approach of using plant transgenics which was slow and costly.

Nonetheless, the new bioengineered system can use additional tweaks on its design so that it can be tailored fit and be compatible with different crops. Whitney furthered that they can now apply the protein optimization tool of Directed Evolution, which was also used in accelerating the carbon dioxide fixation rates in various non-plant forms. 

Introducing the desired changes in tuning up Rubisco activity in crops can then be successfully done by gene editing. Whitney was confident that they will be able to see benefits in photosynthetic performance and its subsequent impact on plant growth and yield.

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