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Scientists Engineer Caffeine Addiction In Bacteria, May Be Helpful In Decontamination Efforts

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Apr 01, 2013 02:39 PM EDT
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(Photo : epSos.de flickr)

Millions of people can't get started in the morning without a cup of coffee, and many of them may even claim to be addicted to the morning jolt of caffeine in the drink. Addiction is usually not associated with anything promising, but a new report in the journal ACS Synthetic Biology describes how scientists have engineered caffeine "addiction" the E.coli bacteria, a scientific first which may lead to breakthrough practical uses including wastewater decontamination and bioproduction of medications.

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Scientists already knew a natural soil bacteria called Pseudomonas putida CBB5 can live only by metabolizing caffeine and can be used to clean up environmental contamination. So Jeffrey E. Barrick and colleagues thought to try and engineer the trait into the E. coli bacteria, which is easy to handle and grow.

"E. coli is a very well understood microorganism and there are many genetic tools available to work with it," Dr. Barrick told The Huffington Post. "It's a workhorse of biotechnology."

The team of microbiologists at the University of Texas, Austin genetically engineered the bacteria to live solely on caffeine, which they say could be used to clean up contamination related to such waste.    

Caffeine has been found to contribute to water pollution because of its widespread use in coffee, tea, energy drinks, chocolate and some medicine, which makes its way into water systems after being excreted by humans.

Barrick and his team hope the addicted E.coli can decontaminate caffeine-polluted water by feasting on it.

Their research has already found that the caffeine-addicted E. coli can be used for decaffeination and to measure the caffeine content in beverages.

The ACS Synthetic Biology journal summary states that potential uses for the development include recovering nutrient-rich but highly toxic material that is left after separating coffee beans from coffee berries and potential developments in for medications for asthma and other lung diseases made from the chemicals given off by the bacteria.

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