Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Scientific Communities
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article

A Digital Test for Toxic Genes

Published: Thursday, January 30, 2014
Last Updated: Friday, January 31, 2014
Bookmark and Share
TAU researchers develop a computer algorithm that identifies genes whose activation is lethal to bacteria.

Like little factories, cells metabolize raw materials and convert them into chemical compounds. Biotechnologists take advantage of this ability, using microorganisms to produce pharmaceuticals and biofuels. To boost output to an industrial scale and create new types of chemicals, biotechnologists manipulate the microorganisms' natural metabolism, often by "overexpressing" certain genes in the cell. But such metabolic engineering is hampered by the fact that many genes become toxic to the cell when overexpressed.

Now, Allon Wagner, Uri Gophna, and Eytan Ruppin of Tel Aviv University'sBlavatnik School of Computer Science and Department of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology, along with researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science, have developed a computer algorithm that predicts which metabolic genes are lethal to cells when overexpressed. The findings, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could help guide metabolic engineering to produce new chemicals in more cost-effective ways.

"In the lab, biotechnologists often determine which genes can be overexpressed using trial and error," said Wagner. "We can save them a lot of time and money by ruling out certain possibilities and highlighting other, more promising ones."

Gaining an EDGE
When metabolic genes are expressed, the genetic information they contain is converted into proteins, which catalyze the chemical reactions necessary for life. Overexpression means that greater-than-normal amounts of proteins are produced. Biotechnologists typically overexpress native genes of an industrial microorganism to boost a certain metabolic pathway in the cell, thus increasing the production of desired compounds. Sometimes they overexpress foreign genes — genes transferred from other organisms — in an industrial microbe to build new metabolic pathways and allow it to synthesize new compounds. But they often find that their efforts are hindered by the toxicity of the genes that they wish to overexpress.

Prof. Ruppin's laboratory builds large-scale software models of cellular metabolism, one of the most fundamental aspects of life. These models convert physical, chemical, and biological information into a set of mathematical equations, allowing scientists to learn how cells work and explore what happens if they are tweaked in certain ways. The newly developed algorithm, Expression Dependent Gene Effects, or EDGE, predicts what happens if scientists manipulate cells to overexpress certain genes. EDGE allows biotechnologists to foresee cases in which the overexpressed genes become toxic and then direct their efforts toward other genes.

To validate their method, TAU researchers used genetic manipulation tools to overexpress 26 different genes in E. coli bacterial cells. Comparing the results of their computer simulations with the actual growth of the overexpressed strains that was measured in the lab, they saw that EDGE was able to predict which of the overexpressed genes turned out to be lethal to E. coli. EDGE was also successful in identifying cases of foreign genes that were toxic to E. coli, as the researchers learned from comparing the simulations' results with data collected by their collaborators at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Beyond bacteria
EDGE's applications appear to extend beyond bacteria. The researchers conducted tests showing that the genes EDGE predicted to be toxic when overexpressed are expressed at low levels not only in microorganisms like bacteria, but also in multicellular organisms, including humans. The researchers say these results reflect the vital evolutionary need to keep the expression of potentially deleterious genes in check.

"Although EDGE's current focus is biotechnology, gene overexpression also plays a central part in many human diseases, particularly in cancer. We hope that future work will apply EDGE to those directions," Wagner said.

Further Information
Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 2,800+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More Than 4,000+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters

Sign In

Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Scientific News
High Throughput Mass Spectrometry-Based Screening Assay Trends
Dr John Comley provides an insight into HT MS-based screening with a focus on future user requirements and preferences.
Revolutionary Technologies Developed to Improve Outcomes for Lung Cancer Patients
Breath test to detect lung cancer brings oxygen directly to the wound.
NIH Supports New Studies to Find Alzheimer’s Biomarkers in Down Syndrome
Initiative will track dementia onset, progress in Down syndrome volunteers.
Promising Drug Combination for Advanced Prostate Cancer
A new drug combination may be effective in treating men with metastatic prostate cancer. Preliminary results of this new approach are encouraging and have led to an ongoing international study being conducted in 196 hospitals worldwide.
A Cellular Symphony Responsible for Autoimmune Disease
Broad Institute researchers have used a novel approach to increase our understanding of the immune system as a whole.
When it Comes to Breast Cancer, Common Pigeon is No Bird Brain
If pigeons went to medical school and specialized in pathology or radiology, they’d be pretty good at distinguishing digitized microscope slides and mammograms of normal vs. cancerous breast tissue, a new study has found.
Editing of LIMS Data Made Faster and More Efficient in Matrix Gemini
The latest version of the Matrix Gemini LIMS (Laboratory Information Management System) from Autoscribe Informatics now provides faster and more efficient editing of LIMS data by eliminating the need for a second editing screen.
University of Edinburgh, Selcia Achieve Key Milestones in Drug Development Program
Scientists from the University of Edinburgh, working with Selcia, have successfully passed the 20-month milestone targets of a 30-month Wellcome Trust SDDi £2.5 million project to design novel treatments for sleeping sickness.
Red Clover Genome to Help Restore Sustainable Farming
The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC) in collaboration with IBERS, has sequenced and assembled the DNA of red clover to help breeders improve the beneficial traits of this important forage crop.
How a Genetic Locus Protects Adult Blood-Forming Stem Cells
Mammalian imprinted Gtl2 protects adult hematopoietic stem cells by restricting metabolic activity in the cells' mitochondria.
Scroll Up
Scroll Down
Skyscraper Banner

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
2,800+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
4,000+ scientific videos