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Team Led by Indian-Origin Scientist Converts Plant Matter Into Chemicals

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A team led by an Indian-origin scientist from Sandia National Laboratories in California has demonstrated a new technology based on bio-engineered bacteria that can make it economically feasible to produce chemicals from renewable plant sources.
Lignin, a tough plant matter, is converted into chemicals. Pixabay

A team led by an Indian-origin scientist from Sandia National Laboratories in California has demonstrated a new technology based on bio-engineered bacteria that can make it economically feasible to produce chemicals from renewable plant sources.

The technology converts tough plant matter, called lignin, for wider use of the energy source and making it cost competitive.

“For years, we have been researching cost-effective ways to break down lignin and convert it into valuable platform chemicals,” Sandia bioengineer Seema Singh said.

“We applied our understanding of natural lignin degraders to E. coli because that bacterium grows fast and can survive harsh industrial processes,” she added in the work published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America”.

Lignin is the component of plant cell walls that gives them their incredible strength. It is brimming with energy but getting to that energy is so costly and complex that the resulting biofuel can’t compete economically with other forms of transportation energy.

A team led by an Indian-origin scientist from Sandia National Laboratories in California has demonstrated a new technology based on bio-engineered bacteria that can make it economically feasible to produce chemicals from renewable plant sources.
Scientists successfully convert plant matter into chemicals. Pixabay

Once broken down, lignin has other gifts to give in the form of valuable platform chemicals that can be converted into nylon, plastics, pharmaceuticals and other valuable products.

Singh and her team have solved three problems with turning lignin into platform chemicals: cost, toxicity and speed.

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Engineering solutions like these, which overcome toxicity and efficiency issues have the potential to make biofuel production economically viable.

“Now we can work on producing greater quantities of platform chemicals, engineering pathways to new end products, and considering microbial hosts other than E. coli,” Singh (IANS)

Next Story

WHO Aims to Make Breast Cancer Treatment Affordable

WHO Moves Step Closer to Cheaper Breast Cancer Treatment

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Breast Cancer
WHO tries to make breast cancer treatment affordable to women globally. Pixabay

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced Wednesday that it had for the first time approved a “biosimilar” medicine — one derived from living sources rather than chemicals — to make breast cancer treatment affordable to women globally.

The trastuzumab drug has shown “high efficacy” in curing early-stage breast cancer and in some cases more advanced forms of the disease, WHO said in a statement.

But the annual cost of the original drug is an average of $20,000, “a price that puts it out of reach of many women and healthcare systems in most countries,” the statement added.

However, the biosimilar version of trastuzumab is generally 65 percent cheaper than the original.

“With this WHO listing, and more products expected in the prequalification pipeline, prices should decrease even further,” WHO said.

The cheaper but equally effective biotherapeutic medicines are produced from biological sources such as cells rather than synthesized chemicals.

They are usually manufactured by companies after the patent on the original product has expired.

“WHO prequalification of biosimilar trastuzumab is good news for women everywhere,” said WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

A radiologist examines breast X-rays
A radiologist examines breast X-rays after a cancer prevention medical check-up at the Ambroise Pare hospital in Marseille, southern France. VOA

“Women in many cultures suffer from gender disparity when it comes to accessing health services. In poor countries, there is the added burden of a lack of access to treatment for many, and the high cost of medicines.

“Effective, affordable breast cancer treatment should be a right for all women, not the privilege of a few,” he added.

WHO prequalification 

A few biosimilars of trastuzumab have come on the market in recent years, but none had previously been prequalified by WHO.

WHO prequalification gives countries the assurance that they are purchasing “quality health products.”

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“We need to act now and try to avoid more preventable deaths,” said Dr. Mariangela Simao, WHO assistant director general for Medicines and Health Products.

“The availability of biosimilars has decreased prices, making even innovative treatments more affordable and hopefully available to more people.” (VOA)