Pink, fat and healthy – that’s how we visualize the ideal pig. But what if Pink Beauty’s stomach is upset? There can be a range of consequences from stress to enteritis, from reduced fattening performance for the industry to a decline of meat quality for the consumer. In a recent survey conducted by the Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology (acib), University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU) and IPUS GmbH Rottenmann, scientists sort to find out how acidification during feed digestion can be managed and which natural feed additives support animal health and welfare.
The body of a human adult consists of 1014 or 100 trillion of cells, which have specific tasks to fulfil. As a reaction to biological signals or environmental cues, cells can start to move. Many questions about cell migration still remain unclear. The acib researchers Christian Jungreuthmayer and Jürgen Zanghellini were involved in developing a micro-device, which mechanically induces defined injuries to analyse microfluidic migration and wound healing.
Enzymes are the tiny helpers of industrial biotechnology. Despite their microscopic size, they need to be tough and diligent because we want them to catalyze a broad range of reactions, ideally with the speed of light for ever after. In reality, however, many enzymes are like sensitive creatures, who need most careful attention and special treats to get their nicest behavior. Otherwise they might fade away like a tender flower in the blinking sun… and send the biotechnologists into terrible trouble. One strategy to find frugal enzymes is to look at thermophilic organisms. They sometimes harbor a treasure of more stable proteins because they are used to withstand somewhat unfriendly conditions such as high temperatures.
Yeast cells are important workhorses for the “green” production of various chemicals and proteins. In many cases the biotechnological industry favours the secretive production of their target compounds, because of lower costs for purification and less complicated downstream processing. But the way from an intracellularly produced protein through the cellular secretion machinery to the outside of the cell is very long and hides numerous obstacles. Researchers all over the world are looking for methods to overcome these hurdles – so do acib researchers.
There are a multitude of challenges associated with the production of next-generation biopharmaceuticals and vaccines. To be effective as a public health tool, vaccines for example are increasingly administered in form of a combination of more than one component and produced in large scale by means of seed viruses. These are living pathogens that multiply in cells from chicken eggs. The rule of thumb “one vaccine dose per egg” means that the number of vaccines is limited to 150 to 200 million available eggs worldwide. Formerly used alternative platforms – such as vaccine production in cell cultures (e.g. mammalian cells) – also have the disadvantage of instability. A new platform technology for the production of the most diverse proteins in an optimised process could be the answer.
Some plants protect themselves with cyanide against voracious beetles, caterpillars or cattle, who want to nibble their delicious looking leaves. Everyone knows that cyanide is really toxic: In Agatha Christies murder stories the murderers take their victim’s breath with ‘sparkling cyanide’: a bit of innocent looking white powder potassium cyanide mixed into sparkling wine. Plants produce this poison with the help of enzymes when the plant is chewed.
Fungi are ubiquitous organisms which have made a beneficial contribution to human development. This association dates back to 3000 B.C. when it is believed that for the first time, Egyptians used yeast for baking bread and brewing beer. Later with the discovery of penicillin from Penicillium chrysogenum, fungal antibiotics gained widespread use in treatment of infections. In the research field too, fungi serve as a model for genetics and cell biology. Filamentous fungi are known for secreting huge amounts of secondary metabolites like enzymes, organic acids, cyclosporins, and steroids. These valuable compounds have vast applications in several industries such as food, beverages, textiles, and pharmaceuticals. A well-known filamentous fungi is Aspergillus niger, an industrial workhorse for production of high titers of organic acids and enzymes.
What if we had a system mirroring the cross-talk between microbes and complex ‘super-organisms’ like humans or animals? Understanding the relationships between hosts and commensal bacteria might help fighting gut flora associated chronic diseases such as diabetes type II, Morbus Crohn, Colitis Ulcerosa. By that, the necessity for multifaceted medication could be cut and animal trials reduced. Establishing unique microbiome-databases, personal tests are thinkable and the creation of individual ‘avatars’ possible. Furthermore, animal-specific chips could mimic diverse livestock groups. The future not only lies, but also fits in our hand with a microbiome-on-a-chip lab device.
The mankind flies to the moon, explores the universe – but still on earth there is much more unexplored matter than we are aware of. Bioprospecting is a discipline, where new products and processes are discovered based on natural resources. The big ideas and innovations for industrial processes are right in front of us – we just have to observe nature and – which is the difficulty – recognize them.