A2: Microbes in the news — Yeast produce low-cost, high-quality cannabinoids


Yeast produce low-cost, high-quality cannabinoids


Synthetic biologists at UC Berkeley have engineered brewer’s yeast to produce some of the main components in marijuana including THC and CBD among others.


The developing field of synthetic biology is based on taking the tools that we are using in class, such as whole-genome sequencing, and our knowledge of how microbiology works to modify and create solutions to modern problems.

Critical Analysis:

Synthetic biology is an amazing and quickly developing field with the potential to take   a future we have only seen in science fiction and turn it into reality. This is an incredible technical achievement showcasing our developing mastery over the fundamental building blocks of life. I knew something like this was coming, I can see the economic incentives for this, I am sure the people behind this will end up fabulously wealthy, but I still can not stop myself from facepalming. Of all the amazing and wondrous potential synthetic biology holds… this had to be the top of my news feed today.


I cannot begin to imagine the legal ramifications, how the hell do you regulate something like this?

Microbes Can Prevent Potholes…?

Article: “Scientists hope bacteria could be the cure for potholes” by Talia Kirkland


Source:  Fox News

Date Published: Feb. 5, 2019

Summary:   This article/news story explains how bacteria may be an answer to preventing potholes.   Scientists at Drexel University in Philadelphia have found that bacteria (they did not mention a specific species), when mixed with CO2 and calcium, can change the environment around them to self-produce limestone.   When spread out on a road, they can make the road material stronger and more able to withstand damage that would cause potholes.   The technique is not yet being used, but it may be an alternative for better roads in the future.

Connections:    This article relates to what we have been talking about in class because they are introducing CO2 and Ca2+ to the bacteria to (I assume) get them to use a specific metabolic pathway and get the desired product.

Critical Analysis:   I think it is really interesting that it only requires two simple ingredients (CO2 and Ca2+) to get these bacteria to produce limestone.   There may be other underlying factors that contribute to the production of the limestone, but the fact that they figured this out with these simple ingredients that are extremely common is pretty impressive.   The information seemed to be scientifically accurate since they actually interviewed the scientists who did the research; it makes the article a little more credible.   One thing that I found misleading, and a bit frustrating, was that within the article, they kept using the terms pavement and concrete interchangeably, but concrete and asphalt are different materials that are made in different ways.   I don’t know if they actually tested this bacteria mixture on actual roads or not, but I think there would be a difference if they tested them on concrete versus asphalt.   The scientist kept saying “concrete”, which leads me to believe that they experimented with concrete, which is not the same material that roads are usually made out of, as far as I know (I would be surprised if roads in Philadelphia are made out of concrete, although it is possible).   If that is the case, then this mixture may not actually work on pavement (asphalt) to fix potholes, as they are claiming.   It is also possible that they were actually working with pavement and are just using ‘concrete’ incorrectly, which would be confusing to people who know the difference between the two materials!   Other than that, I think the author did a really good job at keeping the information simple enough for any person to understand it.   I think someone who knows nothing about biology would still be able to follow along and understand what they are talking about.

Question:    The scientists say that the bacteria are changing the microenvironment around them to self-produce limestone, which made me wonder- are the bacteria that they are adding the ones who are actually producing the limestone?   If not, then what changes are they making that cause other organisms to produce limestone?

Microbes in the News

Article Link: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffkart/2019/01/25/new-technique-could-put-electricity-producing-bacteria-to-work/#6b6b903295b4\

Title: New technique could put electricity-producing bacteria to work

Date: January 25, 2019

Source: Forbes

Author: Jeff Kart

Summary: This article explores research conducted on microbes that can produce electricity. Scientists are hoping to harness the power of these organisms and apply it to tasks such as purifying sewage water. Using dielectrophoresis, the microbes can be categorized in respect to their electrochemical activity so that researchers can select ones that will be most efficient in completing the designated function.

Connections: In class we discussed various characteristics that microbes possess to effectively live in their environment. One of these methods was using electron acceptors other than oxygen, which is especially beneficial in anoxic conditions where oxygen is not readily available. During lecture, we learned about Geobacter, a microbe that pumps its electrons to metals, specifically iron. Researchers in the article mention Geobacter, reporting that it is found in anaerobic conditions and is “the first reported and the most effective electricity producer’. In class we also explored a few applications of electricity-producing microbes,N such as powering batteries in deep sea studies.

Critical Analysis: Although we briefly covered electrogenic microbes in class, I was interested further in their applications. This article provided some compelling supplementary information to what we previously covered in lecture. For me, the most intriguing parts of the reading were the technique they used to assess electrochemical activity as well as potential uses for electrogenic microbes. Although harnessing the power of these bacteria might be a large feat, it seems worthwhile to pursue. Considering that the article seemed consistent with basic knowledge of the chemistry pertaining to electrons and the information taught in lecture, I would argue that it was scientifically sound and would be a reasonable way to convey science to the public. Furthermore, I appreciated that the author asserted that microbes do not have solely negative implications, despite public perception. However, I think it would have been beneficial if the author went into more detail on how this research could be applied to the examples he gave, such as purifying sewage water.

Question: Does the MIT technique used to categorize bacteria by electrochemical activity have other potential uses in terms of microbial studies? Furthermore, could microbes have different applications based on their varying electrochemical activity levels?