Nov 3rd, Dr. Sujit K. Mohanty
Chemical and Biochemical Engineering Department, College of Engineering, University of Iowa
Title: Understanding “Caffeine-Consuming” Bacteria: their Genes, Enzymes, and Metabolites for Development of Various Biotechnological Applications.
Abstract: Caffeine is a key component of many widely consumed drinks like coffee, tea, soft drinks, energy drinks, chocolates, and various commonly available pharmaceuticals. This psychoactive natural product is gaining popularity as a stimulant, especially among youngsters. But, for human beings, caffeine is not a nutrient; it is a drug, and so, over consumption can lead to adverse health effects and possibly death. However, there are microbes that can live and grow solely on caffeine as food! We have isolated few such strains of bacteria from soil and trying to understand the basis of their caffeine diet, i.e., the biochemistry and genetics of this amazing virtue by which they break down this toxic molecule into its components and assimilate them into their system. Furthermore, we are attempting to use these novel scientific discoveries (new genes and enzymes) to design and engineer biological systems and chemical reactions for various biotechnological applications, such as, i) developing a colorimetric method for rapid detection of caffeine in food, drinks and pharmaceuticals within a minute, ii) engineering industrial microbes that can use consume caffeine to produce high value chemicals and metabolites, etc. We will also have an introductory discussion about the newly evolving area of synthetic biology that is gaining popularity among high schools/undergraduate students with a quick review of iGEM competition, Biobricks, and how the two diverse areas of engineering and biology are merging into a single discipline in the 21st century.