The researcher Daniel López, at the Centro Nacional de Biotecnología of the CSIC, coordinates a European consortium of 12 institutions that will work together on the Rafts4Biotech project. Recently awarded by the European Union within the framework of the Horizon 2020 programme, the project will use bacterial lipid rafts to optimise industrial processes.

The consortium received €8 M from the European Union to work on Rafts4Biotech, of which €1.8 M are designated for López’s laboratory as project coordinator. "We want to harness the possibilities of lipid rafts in synthetic bacteria to produce high-value compounds for the pharmaceutical, cosmetics and food industries," López says.

Lipid rafts are sections of the cell membrane that are much less fluid than the rest. They accumulate a variety of substances that increase the likelihood of different proteins finding each other and interacting. Until recently, it was thought that these rafts were unique to eukaryotic cells, but López’s group observed that bacteria have very similar structures.

"We can take advantage of this characteristic to avoid some of the difficulties that arise when developing biotechnological applications with bacteria," says López. According to the researcher, it is often unlikely that the proteins needed to trigger a process will interact, or toxic intermediates are generated that compromise the result. "In Rafts4biotech, we intend to confine the reactions of interest to the lipid rafts and thus optimise industrial production," he says.

The consortium is comprised of experts in synthetic biology, systems biology and mathematical modelling. They will focus their studies on two species commonly used in biotechnological processes, Bacillus subtilis and Escherichia coli. Small companies will also work on the project to translate the technology developed into applications with commercial value.

Image: Yellow fluorescent protein confined in the lipid rafts of the bacterium Bacillus subtilis. Whole bacteria are shown in blue. Daniel López, CNB-CSIC

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