MIT Spin-Out Reports Metabolic Engineering Breakthrough

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In Cambridge, MIT spin-out Manus Bio is using multivariate modular metabolic engineering to design microbial pathways that produce larger volumes of commercially interesting compounds.

MMME involves using enzymes to “cut the linear pathway into a network of separate, distinct modules that can be more easily controlled and modified.”

Using MMME, the company has developed a fermentation-based process to produce Rebaudioside M with greater than 95% product purity. Currently, the alternative sweetener is derived in low yields from the stevia plant. The breakthrough shows how microbial engineering can be used to produce flavors and other products more cost effectively, cofounder Gregory Stephanopoulos tells MIT News.

“Slapping genes together to make a product is fine, but this doesn’t give you a platform for producing something economically,” Stephanopoulos says. “There’s a big jump between making a few milligrams of a compound and a few grams, which is what you need to make it commercially viable.”

Manus is also working on developing a route to nootkatone, a grapefruit extract that is a natural insect repellent. Traditional nootkatone production methods cost several thousand dollars per kilogram.