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Journal: Biotechnology advances


Medicinal plants have historically proven their value as a source of molecules with therapeutic potential, and nowadays still represent an important pool for the identification of novel drug leads. In the past decades, pharmaceutical industry focused mainly on libraries of synthetic compounds as drug discovery source. They are comparably easy to produce and resupply, and demonstrate good compatibility with established high throughput screening (HTS) platforms. However, at the same time there has been a declining trend in the number of new drugs reaching the market, raising renewed scientific interest in drug discovery from natural sources, despite of its known challenges. In this survey, a brief outline of historical development is provided together with a comprehensive overview of used approaches and recent developments relevant to plant-derived natural product drug discovery. Associated challenges and major strengths of natural product-based drug discovery are critically discussed. A snapshot of the advanced plant-derived natural products that are currently in actively recruiting clinical trials is also presented. Importantly, the transition of a natural compound from a “screening hit” through a “drug lead” to a “marketed drug” is associated with increasingly challenging demands for compound amount, which often cannot be met by re-isolation from the respective plant sources. In this regard, existing alternatives for resupply are also discussed, including different biotechnology approaches and total organic synthesis. While the intrinsic complexity of natural product-based drug discovery necessitates highly integrated interdisciplinary approaches, the reviewed scientific developments, recent technological advances, and research trends clearly indicate that natural products will be among the most important sources of new drugs also in the future.

Concepts: Pharmacology, Clinical trial, Drug discovery, Medicinal chemistry, Natural product, High-throughput screening, Natural products


Interest in thermophilic bacteria as live-cell catalysts in biofuel and biochemical industry has surged in recent years, due to their tolerance of high temperature and wide spectrum of carbon-sources that include cellulose. However their direct employment as microbial cellular factories in the highly demanding industrial conditions has been hindered by uncompetitive biofuel productivity, relatively low tolerance to solvent and osmic stresses, and limitation in genome engineering tools. In this work we review recent advances in dissecting and engineering the metabolic and regulatory networks of thermophilic bacteria for improving the traits of key interest in biofuel industry: cellulose degradation, pentose-hexose co-utilization, and tolerance of thermal, osmotic, and solvent stresses. Moreover, new technologies enabling more efficient genetic engineering of thermophiles were discussed, such as improved electroporation, ultrasound-mediated DNA delivery, as well as thermo-stable plasmids and functional selection systems. Expanded applications of such technological advancements in thermophilic microbes promise to substantiate a synthetic biology perspective, where functional parts, module, chassis, cells and consortia were modularly designed and rationally assembled for the many missions at industry and nature that demand the extraordinary talents of these extremophiles.

Concepts: DNA, Archaea, Bacteria, Molecular biology, Organism, Biotechnology, Extremophile, Thermophile


Cellulose acetate (CA) has been a material of choice for spectrum of utilities across different domains ranging from high absorbing diapers to membrane filters. Electrospinning has conferred a whole new perspective to polymeric materials including CA in the context of multifarious applications across myriad of niches. In the present review, we try to bring out the recent trend (focussed over last five years' progress) of research on electrospun CA fibers of nanoscale regime in the context of developmental strategies of their blends and nanocomposites for advanced applications. In the realm of biotechnology, electrospun CA fibers have found applications in biomolecule immobilization, tissue engineering, bio-sensing, nutraceutical delivery, bioseparation, crop protection, bioremediation and in the development of anti-counterfeiting and pH sensitive material, photocatalytic self-cleaning textile, temperature-adaptable fabric, and antimicrobial mats, amongst others. The present review discusses these diverse applications of electrospun CA nanofibers.

Concepts: Bacteria, Microbiology, Biotechnology, Nanomaterials, Cotton, Materials, Textile, Cellulose acetate


Arundo donax L., common name giant cane or giant reed, is a plant that grows spontaneously in different kinds of environments and that it is widespread in temperate and hot areas all over the world. Plant adaptability to different kinds of environment, soils and growing conditions, in combination with the high biomass production and the low input required for its cultivation, give to A. donax many advantages when compared to other energy crops. A. donax can be used in the production of biofuels/bioenergy not only by biological fermentation, i.e. biogas and bio-ethanol, but also, by direct biomass combustion. Both its industrial uses and the extraction of chemical compounds are largely proved, so that A. donax can be proposed as the feedstock to develop a bio-refinery. Nowadays, the use of this non-food plant in both biofuel/bioenergy and bio-based compound production is just beginning, with great possibilities for expanding its cultivation in the future. To this end, this review highlights the potential of using A. donax for energy and bio-compound production, by collecting and critically discussing the data available on these first applications for the crop.

Concepts: Chemical compound, Biofuel, Biomass, Energy crops, Arundo donax, Cane, Arundinoideae, Arundo


Aerobic granular sludge technology has been extensively studied over the past 20 years and is regarded as the upcoming new standard for biological treatment of domestic and industrial wastewaters. Aerobic granules (AG) are dense, compact, self-immobilized microbial aggregates that allow better sludge-water separation and thereby higher biomass concentrations in the bioreactor than conventional activated sludge aggregates. This brings potential practical advantages in terms of investment cost, energy consumption and footprint. Yet, despite the relevant advances regarding the process of AG formation, instability of AG during long-term operation is still seen as a major barrier for a broad practical application of this technology. This paper presents an up-to-date review of the literature focusing on AG stability, aiming to contribute to the identification of key factors for promoting long-term stability of AG and to a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms. Operational conditions leading to AG disintegration are described, including high organic loads, particulate substrates in the influent, toxic feed components, aerobic feeding and too short famine periods. These operational and influent wastewater composition conditions were shown to influence the micro-environment of AG, consequently affecting their stability. Granule stability is generally favored by the presence of a dense core, with microbial growth throughout the AG depth being a crucial intrinsic factor determining its structural integrity. Accordingly, possible practical solutions to improve granule long-term stability are described, namely through the promotion of minimal substrate concentration gradients and control of microbial growth rates within AG, including anaerobic, plug-flow feeding and specific sludge removal strategies.

Concepts: Better, Microbiology, Enzyme substrate, Biotechnology, Concentration, Wastewater, Anaerobic exercise, Aerobic granulation


The development of customizable sequence-specific nucleases such as TALENs, ZFNs and the powerful CRISPR/Cas9 system has revolutionized the field of genome editing. The CRISPR/Cas9 system is particularly versatile and has been applied in numerous species representing all branches of life. Regardless of the target organism, all researchers using sequence-specific nucleases face similar challenges: confirmation of the desired on-target mutation and the detection of off-target events. Here, we evaluate the most widely-used methods for the detection of on-target and off-target mutations in terms of workflow, sensitivity, strengths and weaknesses.

Concepts: DNA, Genetics, Mutation, Evolution, Life, Gene duplication


Targeted genome editing using artificial nucleases has the potential to accelerate basic research as well as plant breeding by providing the means to modify genomes rapidly in a precise and predictable manner. Here we describe the clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR)/CRISPR-associated protein 9 (Cas9) system, a recently-developed tool for the introduction of site-specific double stranded DNA breaks. We highlight the strengths and weaknesses of this technology compared with two well-established genome editing platforms: zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs) and transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs). We summarize recent results obtained in plants using CRISPR/Cas9 technology, discuss possible applications in plant breeding and consider potential future developments.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Human genome, Virus, Genome, RNA, Base pair


Algae and bacteria have coexisted ever since the early stages of evolution. This coevolution has revolutionized life on earth in many aspects. Algae and bacteria together influence ecosystems as varied as deep seas to lichens and represent all conceivable modes of interactions - from mutualism to parasitism. Several studies have shown that algae and bacteria synergistically affect each other’s physiology and metabolism, a classic case being algae-roseobacter interaction. These interactions are ubiquitous and define the primary productivity in most ecosystems. In recent years, algae have received much attention for industrial exploitation but their interaction with bacteria is often considered a contamination during commercialization. A few recent studies have shown that bacteria not only enhance algal growth but also help in flocculation, both essential processes in algal biotechnology. Hence, there is a need to understand these interactions from an evolutionary and ecological standpoint, and integrate this understanding for industrial use. Here we reflect on the diversity of such relationships and their associated mechanisms, as well as the habitats that they mutually influence. This review also outlines the role of these interactions in key evolutionary events such as endosymbiosis, besides their ecological role in biogeochemical cycles. Finally, we focus on extending such studies on algal-bacterial interactions to various environmental and bio-technological applications.

Concepts: Cyanobacteria, Photosynthesis, Bacteria, Evolution, Biology, Fungus, Ecology, Symbiosis


Affinity reagents are essential tools in both basic and applied research; however, there is a growing concern about the reproducibility of animal-derived monoclonal antibodies. The need for higher quality affinity reagents has prompted the development of methods that provide scientific, economic, and time-saving advantages and do not require the use of animals. This review describes two types of affinity reagents, recombinant antibodies and aptamers, which are non-animal technologies that can replace the use of animal-derived monoclonal antibodies. Recombinant antibodies are protein-based reagents, while aptamers are nucleic-acid-based. In light of the scientific advantages of these technologies, this review also discusses ways to gain momentum in the use of modern affinity reagents, including an update to the 1999 National Academy of Sciences monoclonal antibody production report and federal incentives for recombinant antibody and aptamer efforts. In the long-term, these efforts have the potential to improve the overall quality and decrease the cost of scientific research.

Concepts: Immune system, Scientific method, Monoclonal antibodies, Science, Research, Immunohistochemistry, Falsifiability, Pseudoscience


Development of efficient and safe cancer therapy is one of the major challenges of the modern medicine. Over the last few years antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) have become a powerful tool in cancer treatment with two of them, Adcetris® (brentuximab vedotin) and Kadcyla® (ado-trastuzumab emtansine), having recently been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Essentially, an ADC is a bioconjugate that comprises a monoclonal antibody that specifically binds tumor surface antigen and a highly potent drug, which is attached to the antibody via either cleavable or stable linker. This approach ensures specificity and efficacy in fighting cancer cells, while healthy tissues remain largely unaffected. Conventional ADCs, that employ cysteine or lysine residues as conjugation sites, are highly heterogeneous. This means that the species contain various populations of the ADCs with a different drug-to-antibody ratio (DAR) and different drug load distribution. DAR and drug-load distribution are essential parameters of ADCs as they determine their stability and efficacy. Therefore, various drug-loaded forms of ADCs (usually from zero to eight conjugated molecules per antibody) may have distinct pharmacokinetics (PK) in vivo and may differ in clinical performance. Recently, a significant progress has been made in the field of site-specific conjugation which resulted in a number of strategies for synthesis of the homogeneous ADCs. This review describes newly-developed methods that ensure homogeneity of the ADCs including use of engineered reactive cysteine residues (THIOMAB), unnatural amino acids, aldehyde tags, enzymatic transglutaminase- and glycotransferase-based approaches and novel chemical methods. Furthermore, we briefly discuss the limitation of these methods emphasizing the need for further improvement in the ADC design and development.

Concepts: Immune system, Protein, Cancer, Amino acid, Essential amino acid, Heterogeneity, Homogeneity, Cysteine