University of Warwick researchers develop bacteria that can 'digest' molecules and synthesize new compounds; process produces minimal waste products, could support pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries

Sample article from our R&D/Patents

February 4, 2022 (press release) –

  • New method developed by University of Warwick scientists uses enzymes to produce indolic amides, carboxylic acids and auxins – vital for use in pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries
  • Mimics how these compounds are manufactured in plants for the first time
  • Minimal waste products mean the process is sustainable and more environmentally friendly

A method of producing vital chemical building blocks for use in the pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries that mimics how plants manufacture them has been developed by University of Warwick scientists.

Using enzymes in the same way that plants do, the scientists have created bacteria that ‘digest’ molecules to synthesise new compounds in a process that is reusable and produces minimal waste products. Their results are published in a new study in the journal ACS Catalysis and could help the pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries in making their manufacturing process more environmentally friendly.

The scientists were particularly interested in reproducing a process in plants called the indole-3-acetamide (IAM) pathway, that allows the plant to produce compounds such as indolic amides, carboxylic acids and auxins. These compounds have a number of agrochemical and pharmaceutical applications but are difficult for industry to manufacture except by using chemical catalysts, which produce a lot of toxic chemical waste.

While scientists have been aware of how nature produces these molecules for decades, until now the technology did not exist that could take advantage of it. Now for the first time, a team based at the Warwick Integrative Synthetic Biology Centre has developed a process that uses enzymes in a series of cascade reactions to break down molecules and synthesise them into the required compounds, in the same way a plant would.

The study, funded by UK Research and Innovation and the Royal Society, was led by Dr Binuraj Menon at the University of Warwick School of Life Sciences, now based at the University of Portsmouth. He said: “We knew that multiple pathways to Auxin molecules exist in plants. Also, some plant pathogenic bacteria utilize these routes to infect and grow in plant roots and galls. However, reconstructing it in an industrial and friendly microbial host always we have encountered several functional issues.

“By engineering these enzymes, we can adapt the process for the purpose of large-scale production, making it easily accessible, purifiable and compatible. The advantage here is the applicability of these enzymes, as the existing enzymatic solutions to make amide and carboxylic acid are challenging, time consuming and require many expensive components

Enzymes serve a variety of purposes in living organisms and are often best known for forming part of the human digestive system by breaking down food. They are involved in many other functions as biocatalysts, in accelerating chemical reactions. Enzymes are being investigated as alternatives to current chemical methods, cutting industrial emissions and resources, an ideal solution for moving towards greener and environmentally friendly industrial production.

To produce the enzymes for this study, the scientists used non-pathogenic bacteria that were engineered to overexpress them. These enzymes can be separated for reactions in mild and aqueous conditions or the bacteria can be directly used for reactions.

The bacterial cells reproduce quickly and chemicals are produced from cheaper components like glucose, making it easily scaled up and reused with little waste or environmental impact as is often encountered in chemical catalysts. By redesigning microbes and enzymes, they can be engineered to have new abilities and applications.

Dr Menon added: “We are basically harnessing the power of nature to solve many problems in the chemical, pharmaceutical, agriculture and manufacturing industries via engineering microbes and enzymes. Synthetic Biology is essentially using biology for synthetic purposes, and here we have displayed how blending and mixing it with different enzymes can be used with many similar molecules.

“In the near future, additional engineering and lab-based evolution of these enzymes will allow us to prepare bespoke molecules and targeted chemicals. The engineered bacteria could also be used to coat seeds for healthy germination and root development, or as a weed killer by tuning the auxins, with many direct applications and possibilities.”

‘Versatile and Facile One-Pot Biosynthesis for Amides and Carboxylic Acids in E. coli by Engineering Auxin Pathways of Plant Microbiomes’ is published in ACS Catalysis, DOI: 10.1021/acscatal.1c04901 Link: https://doi.org/10.1021/acscatal.1c04901 ;

* All content is copyrighted by Industry Intelligence, or the original respective author or source. You may not recirculate, redistrubte or publish the analysis and presentation included in the service without Industry Intelligence's prior written consent. Please review our terms of use.

More from our R&D/Patents Coverage
See our dashboard in action - schedule an demo
Chelsey Quick
Chelsey Quick
- VP Client Success -

We offer built-to-order r&d/patents coverage for our clients. Contact us for a free consultation.

About Us

We deliver market news & information relevant to your business.

We monitor all your market drivers.

We aggregate, curate, filter and map your specific needs.

We deliver the right information to the right person at the right time.

Our Contacts

1990 S Bundy Dr. Suite #380,
Los Angeles, CA 90025

+1 (310) 553 0008

About Cookies On This Site

We collect data, including through use of cookies and similar technology ("cookies") that enchance the online experience. By clicking "I agree", you agree to our cookies, agree to bound by our Terms of Use, and acknowledge our Privacy Policy. For more information on our data practices and how to exercise your privacy rights, please see our Privacy Policy.