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Tea bacteria modified to produce cellulose

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 filtration and textile industry. The team at Imperial College London 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 biomolecules 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 biotoxins, based on color change. Undergraduate students specializing in synthetic biology led this research effort according to Imperial College. This study is one of the first to use synthetic biology to engineer the ways in which materials are produced.

Michael Florea, who led the project while carrying out undergraduate studies at Imperial College stated that the study shows bacterial cellulose production can be genetically engineered and proteins can be woven into the cellulose, which has not been possible before. According to researchers, the next step is to collaborate with NASA scientists to manufacture new materials on Mars using these engineered microbes. Other applications are envisioned in fashion and textile industry.

The research work has been published in the recent issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA

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