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Common bacteria modified to make designer sugar-based drug

March 2, 2021


Envisioning an animal-free drug supply, scientists have — for the first time — reprogrammed a common bacterium to make a designer polysaccharide molecule used in pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals. Published today in Nature Communications, the researchers modified E. coli to produce chondroitin sulfate, a drug best known as a dietary supplement to treat arthritis that is currently sourced from cow trachea.

Genetically engineered E. coli is used to make a long list of medicinal proteins, but it took years to coax the bacteria into producing even the simplest in this class of linked sugar molecules — called sulfated glycosaminoglycans — that are often used as drugs and nutraceuticals.

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