Danish Researchers Turn Plants Into Medicine Factories
A new Danish research project will use synthetic biology to produce new drugs in a faster and more environmentally friendly way.
Scientists will use synthetic biology to create sustainable production of medicinal and other high-value compounds in so-called photo-bioreactors. This will be done in a consortium with both Danish and European companies, which has just been granted 20,6 mill. DKK in support from the Danish Council for Strategic Research.
A pioneering production method
”We want to create the foundations for a completely novel production method for high-value products, which can be used in the pharmaceutical industry,” says professor Poul Erik Jensen from Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences and Center for Synthetic Biology at University of Copenhagen.
Sunlight drives the process
Poul Erik Jensen, who leads the project, elaborates on the production method:
“The production itself will take place in contained photo-bioreactors with e.g. moss or cyanobacteria, which have been developed to channel sunlight directly into the production of the desired products. This is somewhat similar to the production of insulin. But we add to it the extra sustainable aspects, that it is sunlight driving the process.”
Replacing chemical synthesis with photosynthesis
The idea is based on groundbreaking results: By moving the enzymes responsible for the synthesis of the desired compounds into the sunlight harvesting chloroplasts, it is shown that the energy from the photosynthesis is directly driving the production process, while the products accumulate in the chloroplasts.
This concept can be used to produce e.g. complex terpenoids, that have applications as cancer drugs among other things. These terpenoids are hard or sometimes completely impossible to produce by chemical synthesis, which is expensive and often environmentally harmful to boot.
A full-chain project
The project is described as 'full chain', which means that researchers and companies are involved in all parts of the process - from analysis of the interesting enzymes to the photobioreactors, where the compounds will grow, as well as testing and analysis of the final products.
Poul Erik Jensen is working on the project in close collaboration with the world leading synthetic biologist Jay Keasling of UC Berkeley (USA) and membrane protein experts from Warwick University (UK), while the companies involved include Evolva Biotech, AgroTech, NOVAgreen GmbH, and LEO Pharma.
Denmark home to state-of-the-art biotechnology
The Executive of NOVAgreen, Dr. Theodor Fahrendorf comments on the collaboration:
”We need to free ourselves from fossil fuels by developing an efficient, sustainable knowledge-based economy for the future. We wish to aid this transition with our expertise in running these sorts of tests.”
Combined, these efforts will result in the development of new, CO2-neutral production platforms and state-of-the-art photo-bioreactor technology in Denmark.
Source: The University of Copenhagen