Pharmaceuticals from crab shells

By | February 14, 2012

This is pretty cool stuff.

Vienna University of Technology: “Fungi with additional foreign genes have been created at the Vienna University of Technology. They can now turn chitin into pharmaceuticals.

Usually, mould fungi are nothing to cheer about – but now they can be used as “chemical factories”. Scientists at the Vienna University of Technology have succeeded in introducing bacterial genes into the fungus Trichoderma, so that the fungus can now produce important chemicals for the pharmaceutical industry. The raw material used by the fungus is abundant – it is chitin, which makes up the shells of crustaceans."

N-Acetylneuraminic acid (sialic acid or Neu5Ac) is a naturally widespread carbohydrate with several biological functions, including blood protein half-life regulation, variety of toxin neutralization, cellular adhesion and glycoprotein lytic protection. Neu5Ac is also the starting reagent of biochemical derivatives for the synthesis of pharmaceuticals, including antivirals. Basically it’s pretty important, but it’s also very expensive, running about $2600 per gram.

Fortunately the team at Vienna UT uses a genetically altered form of the fungus Trichoderma to help create Neu5Ac from Chitin, which is readily and abundantly available, thus making it a much more cost effective pharmaceutical substrate. Ta-da!

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