Research published in the journal Microbial Cell Factories suggests that crab shells may provide the raw material for a new wave of pharmaceutical drugs.
Researchers based at Vienna UT, have put forward that by introducing bacterial genes into the fungus Trichoderma, the fungus can be directed to produce an important chemical (N-Acetylneuraminic acid) for the pharmaceutical industry. The raw material used by the fungus is chitin, which makes up the shells of crustaceans.
The fungus, Trichoderma, in naturally very effective at degrading chitin. Normally chitin is broken down to monomer amino sugars. Through genetic engineering, the researchers have made it so that the degradated product becomes the biopolymer, N-Acetylneuraminic acid. N-Acetylneuraminic acid is used to prepare anti-viral medicines.
The journal reference is:
Matthias G Steiger, Astrid R Mach-Aigner, Rita Gorsche, Erwin E Rosenberg, Marko D Mihovilovic, Robert L Mach. Synthesis of an antiviral drug precursor from chitin using a saprophyte as a whole-cell catalyst. Microbial Cell Factories, 2011; 10 (1): 102 DOI: 10.1186/1475-2859-10-102