- Press release
, François-Xavier Branthôme
AI-driven automated system can help design biochemical pathways to produce lycopene
While the tomato processing industry seems to be on track to obtain in the short or medium term a health claim authorization for the health benefits of compounds naturally contained in its products, should we be concerned about the progress of artificial intelligence coupled with bio-technologies, which is now able to biomanufacture lycopene ?
A new proof-of-concept study details how an automated system driven by artificial intelligence can design, build, test and learn complex biochemical pathways to efficiently produce lycopene, a red pigment found in tomatoes and commonly used as a food coloring, opening the door to a wide range of biosynthetic applications, according to a report put out by researchers.
The journal “Nature Communications” has published the results of the study, which combined a fully automated robotic platform called the “Illinois Biological Foundry for Advanced Biomanufacturing” with AI in order to achieve biomanufacturing.
“Biofoundries are factories that mimic the foundries that build semiconductors, but are designed for biological systems instead of electrical systems.”
Huimin Zhao, a University of Illinois chemical and biomolecular engineering professor who led the research
However, because biology offers many pathways to chemical production, the researchers assert that what is required for true automation is a system driven by AI and capable of choosing from thousands of experimental iterations.
Previous biofoundry efforts have produced a wide variety of products such as chemicals, fuels, and engineered cells and proteins, the researchers said, but those studies were not performed in a fully automated manner.
"Past studies in biofoundry development mainly focused on only one of the design, build, test and learn elements," Zhao said. "A researcher was still required to perform data analysis and to plan for the next experiment. Our system, dubbed BioAutomata, closes the design, build, test and learn loop, and leaves humans out of the process."
BioAutomata completed two rounds of fully automated construction and optimization of the lycopene-production pathway, which includes the design and construction of lycopene pathways, the transfer of DNA-encoding pathways into host cells, the growth of the cells, and the extraction and measurement of lycopene production.
"BioAutomata was able to reduce the number of possible lycopene-production pathways constructed, from over 10 000 down to about 100, and create an optimized quantity of lycopene-overproducing cells within weeks – greatly reducing time and cost," Zhao said.
Zhao envisions fully automated biofoundries being a future revolution in smart manufacturing, not unlike what automation did for the automobile industry.
"A hundred years ago, people built cars by hand," he said. "Now, that process is much more economical and efficient thanks to automation, and we imagine the same for biomanufacturing of chemicals and materials."
Some complementary data
HamediRad, M. et al. (2019) Towards a fully automated algorithm driven platform for biosystems design. Nature Communications. doi.org/10.1038/s41467-019-13189-z
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Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (News Bureau), news-medical.net, sciencedaily.com, nature.com