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What Is Metabolic Engineering?

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  • Written By: K.C. Bruning
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2016
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Metabolic engineering is the process of working with the pathways in cells in the hopes of giving them specific qualities. The practice typically consists of enhancing a process that is already performed by a cell. In essence, it is the optimization of a cell for that particular purpose. Metabolic engineering is a branch of cell biology. It is commonly used to make medicines and to change the properties of certain kinds of foods and beverages.

The core tactic of metabolic engineering is to alter the networks that facilitate communication in and among cells so that they communicate a specific message. Metabolic engineering begins with an analysis of these pathways. It consists of mathematically mapping out the structure of the cells and finding all of the potentially useful elements within them. In essence, it is a way to develop an understanding of how metabolic processes work so they can be altered.

Once analysis of cell networks is complete, the next step in the process of metabolic engineering is to use the principles of molecular biology to alter them. This is accomplished by making genetic alterations in the cell structure so that they will perform as desired. The process tends to focus on networks because altering only these elements leaves most of the cell intact, which gives it a better chance of surviving as long as it would have without intervention.

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Some of the specific elements that are altered through this process include regulatory functions, enzymes, and means of transport. These things are changed via adjustments to information centers such as deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). The overall effect is to divert specific processes so that they will change the way the cell functions.

The bulk of metabolic engineering work has traditionally involved microbial organisms, which are minute life forms. As the practice has developed, other life forms, such as animals and plants, have been used for the process. In all cases, elements from these life forms have been grown into cell cultures which provide the material necessary for cell modification.

Metabolic engineering is complex and multidisciplinary. It draws upon molecular biology, chemical engineering, and biochemistry. This process also touches on computer science.

The practice of metabolic engineering is frequently used to change the properties of various items on the market. It is commonly used in the preparation of medications. The process can also be a part of making consumable products such as cheese, beer or wine.

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