WASHINGTON, June 11, 2013 — The latest episode in the American Chemical Society’s (ACS’) award-winning Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions podcast series describes bacteria that are “addicted” to caffeine in a way that promises practical uses ranging from decontamination of wastewater to bioproduction of medications for asthma.
Some people may joke about living on caffeine, but scientists now have genetically engineered E. coli bacteria to do that — literally.
Barrick and colleagues note that caffeine and related chemical compounds have become important water pollutants due to widespread use in coffee, soda pop, tea, energy drinks, chocolate and certain medications. These include prescription drugs for asthma and other lung diseases.
The scientists knew that a natural soil bacterium, Pseudomonas putida CBB5, can actually live solely on caffeine and could be used to clean up such environmental contamination. So they set out to transfer genetic gear for breaking down caffeine from P. putida into that old workhorse of biotechnology, E. coli, which is easy to handle and grow.
The study reports their success in doing so, as well as use of the E. coli for decaffeination and measuring the caffeine content of beverages. It describes development of a synthetic packet of genes for breaking down caffeine and related compounds that can be moved easily to other microbes. When engineered into certain E. coli, the result was bacteria literally addicted to caffeine.
The genetic packet could have applications beyond environmental remediation, the scientists say, citing potential use as a sensor to measure caffeine levels in beverages, in recovery of nutrient-rich byproducts of coffee processing and for the cost-effective bioproduction of medicines.
Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions is a series of podcasts describing some of the 21st century’s most daunting problems, and how cutting-edge research in chemistry matters in the quest for solutions. Global Challenges is the centerpiece in an alliance on sustainability between ACS and the Royal Society of Chemistry. Global Challenges is a sweeping panorama of global challenges that includes dilemmas such as providing a hungry and thirsty world with ample supplies of safe food and clean water, developing alternatives to petroleum to fuel society, preserving the environment and ensuring a sustainable future for our children and improving human health.
The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 163,000 members, ACS is the world’s largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.