ScienceWeRa student research team trying to synthesize a component of Saffron, the new hope against cancer. AUA!
Jul 24th 2017 by igemuppsala • 10 Questions • 59 Points
We are the iGEM team of Uppsala University (Sweden)! iGEM is an international contest for genetically engineered machines. Picking up on the Front Page article about saffron, we thought we'd do a quick AUA about how artificial saffron works! Saffron itself is increcibly expensive, hence we are working on the pathway that enables us to let bacteria produce it for us!
We are planning to synthesize alpha-Crocin in E.coli. It is responsible for the red color of Saffron, has potential medical implications and the famous Crocetin, which had been mentioned in the article, is an intermediate in this reaction! We will go to the USA in November (MIT in Boston! Exciting!) to present our project together with hundreds of other teams from all over the globe!
Ask Us Anything!
Thank you for your questions and your interest guys! The working day is coming to an end in Sweden, but we will be back tomorrow to check one more round of questions! Cheers!
Is the process similar to the way insulin is synthesised using E.coli?
Thank you for your question! The answer is: Yes and No! Also for insulin production, the plasmid (circular DNA) of E. coli is cut in a special way, the gene for insulin inserted, and E. coli proceeds to produce human insulin for us.
The difference is that we are not producing Crocin (or ultimately Saffron) directly, because it is not a protein that can be encoded in the genes. Instead, we are inserting the codes for enzymes (little machines that make A --> B) that are doing this job for us in the cell. The principle of insertion remains the same though.
what other approaches do you see being pursued -- for example are there any attempts to make saffron as a whole easier to grow (rather than one component)?
If I understand correctly, you are wondering why we don't engineer the plants to just grow better? The problem with the plant, Crocus sativa, is that each flower only contains a tiny amount of saffron, which has to be carefully hand-picked and dried. It still remains unknown how exactly the plant accumulates the spice, which makes it hard to engineer it. A study for example found many of the enzymes expressed in the plant, which helps us understand the pathway, but does not tell us where to start improving the plant. Also, not all plants are suitable for genetic engineering and Crocus is not a model plant with decades of accumulated data.
Overall, there are definitely other approaches from molecular plant scientists to improve the growth of the plant, and you will find many projects going on working with Crocus sativa. In terms of cost and also necessary resources, it is well worth trying to implement the system in bacteria in the meantime - like our project.