From antibiotic resistances to flavor modifiers – research into the future of biotechnology

Research institutes and companies are working on application solutions for industry, medicine and agriculture

“The concept for the development of new active ingredients and ultimately new medication is that these substances interact with a biomolecule, usually a protein or an enzyme, and this results in an effect that can be used therapeutically,” says Professor Dieter Schinzer from the Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg in Saxony Anhalt, Germany. At the Institute for Chemistry, the Chemistry Professor Dieter Schinzer is looking into the synthesis of natural substances and active ingredients and their interactions with biomolecules.

Antibiotic resistances as a challenge

In a collaboration involving the Institute for Chemistry at the Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg, the Helmholtz-Zentrum für Infektionsforschung (HZI) and a pharmaceutical company, it is currently being attempted to develop a new broad-spectrum antibiotic based on natural substances. The background is the dilemma of antibiotic resistances and increasing numbers of gram-negative bacteria emerging, for example multi-resistant “hospital germs”. “We are developing a flexible synthesis to optimize existing biotechnological processes and therefore devise a substance that specifically acts against gram-negative bacteria,” says Professor Schinzer.

The fact that Saxony-Anhalt’s life science industry is so strong is to be proven once again at the BIO International Convention 2017 in San Diego, California from June 19 to 22. Why the pharmaceutical industry, biotechnology and medical technology are increasingly setting the pace in the East German federal state may be explained above all by the fact that academic and applied research cultivate a close network with producers here. As a result, a structure has grown that pools expertise and ensures that new products are available on the health market quickly. Numerous research projects, some of which have already received international attention, are proof of this.

International collaborations in the research field of immunocology

The development of a dual active ingredient against cancer is an important field of work in immunocology . The dual active ingredient attacks cancer cells on the one hand, just like chemotherapy, but also has an immune stimulating effect with which the body’s own defence system is used on the other hand. The focus of the current research is to mobilize the immune system to generate long-lasting success and it has developed into an important new hope in cancer research. The project is based on an international collaboration with cell biologists from Norway, the University of Siena and EHT Zurich.

Biocatalytic production of flavor modifiers

The Leibniz Institute of Plant Chemistry (IPB) is busy researching the development of active ingredients, biocatalysts and processes to produce and optimize them. The focus is on analyzing natural plant substances, their biological significance and examining the molecular mechanisms on which these interactions are based. A library of more than 15,000 own natural substances, derivatives and extracts and over 5,000 organism samples and pathogens that are used for the development of pharmaceuticals and plant protection products or in the F&F field serves as the basis.

The team led by Professor Ludger Wessjohann is currently researching flavorings and flavor modifiers, among other things. “We have developed a process with which we can biotechnologically produce substances that mask bitter flavors or enhance sweet flavors. We use the easy to extract raw material naringenin from lemon peel for this and convert it into the active ingredient Homoeriodictyol (HED) using biotechnological processes,” says Professor Wessjohann, Managing Director of the Leibniz Institute of Plant Biochemistry. HED is a natural product that acts as a bitter blocker without influencing the flavor itself. As it is not readily available in nature and therefore expensive on the market, biotechnological production is of advantage. “We have developed both an in-vitro process where enzymes take over the conversion in an enzyme cascade and a process where we have put enzymes into an organism that eats the waste product naringenin and converts it into the flavor modulator HED,” he adds. The flavor modulator is then used in the pharmaceutical and food industry, among others.

Successful multiplication of Zika viruses

At the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics of Complex Technical Systems, the Bioprocess Engineering research group is concentrating on one important aspect of red biotechnology: the production of virus vaccines. One key topic there is the Zika virus. There is currently no vaccination against the Zika virus available. If an effective vaccine is developed one day, it will be necessary to be able to produce it on a large scale quickly. To enable this, the viruses must first be propagated in living cells,  from which live attenuated or inactivated virus particles can then be obtained for use as a vaccine. Working in cooperation with a team of researchers from the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, researchers in Magdeburg have now for the first time succeeded in producing large quantities of Zika viruses in the laboratory – a crucial prerequisite for the initiation of immunological studies, the development of diagnostic tools, and the production of vaccines.

Further development of the Genebank – the BRIDGE Warehouse makes access to important research bases easier

The focus at the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK) in Gatersleben is currently on the BRIDGE project. A database interface is being developed under the title “BRIDGE: Biodiversity informatics to bridge the gap from genome information to educated utilization of genetic diversity hosted in Genebanks”. The Federal ex-situ Genebank based at the IPK is to be further developed into an integrated resource center with this. The planned BRIDGE Data Warehouse will link genotype and phenotype information to the individual crop plant samples in the Genebank thus enhancing the scientific and practical value of the collection. For example, there are roughly 25,000 barley seed samples collected and kept in the IPK Gatersleben Genebank at the moment. Until now though the availability of additional information on the collections has been poor and the selection of suitable samples for specific research and breeding projects has therefore been associated with a great deal of time and expense. The entire IPK barley collection is being characterized with the help of genotyping by sequencing (GBS) to mainly support the quality, efficiency and viability of maintenance management. Making access to this data easier allows for it to be used along the entire value chain. The project is being supported by a close collaboration with the Leibniz ScienceCampus “Plant-Based Bioeconomy” in Halle and promotes the education of young science talent in the field of biodiversity genomics.

Author: Jennifer Koch


Image Caption: Experimental set-up for high cell density cultivation for the production of Zika viruses in a 3 liter bioreactor in the collaboration partner’s lab at the Department of Molecular Virology at the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro. The control unit (on left in picture) controls and regulates key process parameters in the bioreactor (center). Both the pumps under the bioreactor are used to continuously add fresh medium and continuously remove the consumed medium. The old medium is drawn off through the hollow fiber membrane (on right) while the cells and Zika virus are retained in the bioreactor.(Photo: MPI for Dynamics of Complex Technical Systems Magdeburg / A. Nikolay)


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