A team of scientists and students at Imperial College London have engineered bacteria found in green tea to produce cellulose that can find applications in the filtration and textile industry. The team has developed DNA tools to engineer a specific strain of bacteria found in fermented green tea to produce modified bacterial cellulose. This technique also enables to incorporate proteins and other bio molecules to the bacteria.
Among many different potential applications, protein incorporated bacterial cellulose filter can be used to target contaminants in water supplies. An interesting application is developing sensors using cellulose material that can detect bio toxins, based on color change.
The study shows bacterial cellulose production can be genetically engineered and proteins can be woven into cellulose, which has not been possible before. The next step is to collaborate with NASA scientists to manufacture new materials on Mars using these engineered microbes. Other applications are envisioned in the fashion and textile industry.
Undergraduate students specialising in synthetic biology led this research effort. This study is one of the first to use synthetic biology to engineer ways in which materials are produced. The research work has been published in the recent issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA.