Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley biologists used cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) to resolve the structure of a protein complex, called an inflammasome, that is assembled within cells in response to incursion by a pathogen and functions as a beacon to summon immune system support. Inflammasome assembly is initiated when a protein called NAIP5 latches onto a flagellin molecule—a piece of the whiplike tail used by bacteria to propel themselves. Then several copies of another protein, NLRC4, join in to form the ring-shaped protein cluster. The researchers, led by Eva Nogales in Biosciences’ Molecular Biophysics and Integrated Bioimaging (MBIB) Division and Russell Vance in the Department of Molecular & Cell Biology at UCB, found that flagellin is in contact with six different parts of NAIP5. They further demonstrated that the multiple contact sites help prevent bacteria with minor mutations from eluding detection. The study was published in the journal Science. Read more in the Berkeley Lab News Center.
LanzaTech is looking into new routes to capture carbon capture and biomanufacture new products. In order to accelerate development while at the same time reducing costs and increasing throughput, LanzaTech is partnering with Department of Energy (DOE) laboratories: Berkeley Lab (LBNL); DOE Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI); Sandia National Laboratories (SNL); the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), and Oak Ridge National Lab to develop new foundational technologies that will open new frontiers in this space. Under a Technology Commercialization Fund (TCF) grant by the DOE, LanzaTech, with LBNL, SNL and JBEI will focus on microfluidics, as a way to shrink the physical footprint of LanzaTech’s manufacturing facility, and reducing the cost and time needed to test the outcome of each experiment. DOE JGI will synthesize 1 million base pairs of DNA for novel pathways and to construct a library for modification of every gene in LanzaTech’s organism. Read the press release.
A new study led by researchers at the Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), based at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), demonstrates the importance of microbial communities as a source of stable enzymes that could be used to convert plants to biofuels. The study, recently published in the journal Nature Microbiology, reports on the discovery of new types of cellulases, enzymes that help break down plants into ingredients that can be used to make biofuels and bioproducts. The cellulases were cultured from a microbiome. Using a microbial community veers from the approach typically taken of using isolated organisms to obtain enzymes. Read more in the Berkeley Lab’s News Center.
LoaScope, the latest iteration of the CellScope technology developed in the lab of Daniel Fletcher, turns the camera of a mobile device into a microscope and automatically detects and quantifies infection by parasitic worms in a drop of blood. One such parasite, Onchocerca volvulus, is endemic to Africa and can lead to blindness in infected individuals. Treatment with the drug ivermectin is complicated because co-infection by another parasitic worm, the Loa loa, can cause fatal side effects. Expanding on a successful pilot study, the LoaScope was used to analyze the blood of patients in Cameroon, enabling doctors to treat more than 15,000 people with ivermectin without serious complications. Fletcher, a faculty scientist in Biological Systems and Engineering (BSE) and chair of the UC Berkeley Department of Bioengineering, is a coauthor on the report published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Read more from UC Berkeley News.
The Earth Microbiome Project is a massively collaborative effort to characterize all microbial life on the planet. Representing Berkeley Lab, Eric Dubinsky, a guest scientist working with Gary Andersen in EGSB, as well as Neslihan Tas and Shi Wang in the Climate & Ecosystems Science Division (EESA), were among the more than 300 scientists from 161 institutions worldwide to participate in the project. Dubinsky contributed 124 soil samples and metadata he collected from Hawaii. A meta-analysis of all the microbial community samples collected thus far was published Nov. 1 in Nature. This multi-scale reference database gives global context to DNA sequence data and provides a framework for incorporating data from future studies.