Summary
Metabolic engineering is the practice of optimizing genetic and regulatory processes within cells to increase the cell's production of a certain substance. These processes are chemical networks that use a series of biochemical reactions and enzymes that allow cells to convert raw materials into molecules necessary for the cell's survival. Metabolic engineering specifically seeks to mathematically model these networks, calculate a yield of useful products, and pin point parts of the network that constrain the production of these products. Genetic engineering techniques can then be used to modify the network in order to relieve these constraints. Once again this modified network can be modeled to calculate the new product yield. The ultimate goal of metabolic engineering is to be able to use these organisms to produce valuable substances on an industrial scale in a cost-effective manner. Current examples include producing beer, wine, cheese, pharmaceuticals, and other biotechnology products. Some of the common strategies used for metabolic engineering are (1) overexpressing the gene encoding the rate-limiting enzyme of the biosynthetic pathway, (2) blocking the competing metabolic pathways, (3) heterologous gene expression, and (4) enzyme engineering. Since cells use these metabolic networks for their survival, changes can have drastic effects on the cells' viability. Therefore, trade-offs in metabolic engineering arise between the cells ability to produce the desired substance and its natural survival needs. Therefore, instead of directly deleting and/or overexpressing the genes that encode for metabolic enzymes, the current focus is to target the regulatory networks in a cell to efficiently engineer the metabolism. In the past, to increase the productivity of a desired metabolite, a microorganism was genetically modified by chemically induced mutation, and the mutant strain that overexpressed the desired metabolite was then chosen.
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