Photo: JBEI researchers Jay Keasling (left) and Itay Budin. (Credit: Irina Silva/Berkeley Lab)
Researchers at the Department of Energy's Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have gained insight into the primary process by which all cells harness energy, known as cellular respiration, of E. coli bacteria and a species of yeast, each of which are common hosts for biofuels and bioproducts. Their findings suggest new ways by which the pathways to produce biofuels and bioproducts could be optimized to maintain proper respiratory function, thereby increasing production.
This work was described in a paper, "Viscous control of cellular respiration by membrane lipid composition," which was published recently in Science. The research team was led by JBEI CEO Jay Keasling, corresponding author and senior faculty scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. In this study, the researchers determined the relationship of membrane viscosity to cellular respiration. Viscosity, in the context of this paper, refers to how fluid a membrane is, and can fluctuate depending on which fatty acids are present.
"We were inspired by an old observation that cells have feedback mechanisms that allow their membrane structure to change," said Itay Budin, JBEI researcher and lead author of the publication. "So we asked ourselves: How will changes in the types of lipids produced by bacterial cells affect their growth and metabolism?" To find an answer, Budin used synthetic biology and metabolic engineering methods to manipulate lipid synthesis and thereby carefully control membrane composition.