RESEARCHERS at the University of Nottingham have entered a new partnership to engineer a type of bacteria to produce omega-3 fatty acids, an important nutrient, from methane.
Omega-3 fatty acids are thought to be important for the growth of healthy tissues, including in the brain, skin and eyes, and play an important metabolic role in the body. For this reason, food producers are increasingly adding omega-3 oils to their products, and more people are taking omega-3 supplements. The richest natural source is fish liver oils, which is putting a strain on fish stocks. For this reason, the researchers, led by Nigel Minton at Nottingham’s Synthetic Biology Research Centre (SBRC), are seeking to produce omega-3 fatty acids using a species of bacteria called Methylococcus, which is methanotroph, effectively ‘eating’ methane to survive. The project will also involve CHAIN Biotech, a synthetic biology company.
In its natural state Methylococcus would usually metabolise methane into the conventional building blocks of life. However, researcher and CHAIN Biotech co-founder Basil Omar explained to The Chemical Engineer that the team will engineer the genetic code of the bacteria to include genes for enzymes involved in the production of omega-3 fatty acids. The engineered bacteria will then metabolise methane into omega-3 fatty acids as well.
“We specialise in the use of fermentation of certain gases to produce sustainable industrial chemicals and biofuels, and now through this project to produce vital feedstock ingredients like omega-3 fatty acids,” said Minton, adding: “There are huge potential benefits in terms of reducing dependency on fishing and also creating a new use for a plentiful gas that has a harmful effect on the environment if unharnessed. Methane is a low cost and sustainable feedstock that can be produced from a variety of renewable sources, including anaerobic digestion which is now prevalent in the UK and EU.”
The project will run for a year. It is being largely funded by grants from InnovateUK and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). Californian firm Calysta is the commercial partner and will provide funding and facilities for scaling up the process. Calysta specialises in the microbial production of proteins and has recently introduced a sustainable feed for fish farms, called FeedKind, again reducing pressures on wild fish stocks, which are often used to produce fish feed.
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