E. Coli Bacteria 'Addicted' to Caffeine: Keep that Away from My Coffee!

First Posted: Apr 01, 2013 08:27 AM EDT

Good morning, everyone! Are you ready for that first cup of coffee? Apparently a strain of bacteria is, too. Researchers have engineered E. Coli bacteria that are "addicted" to caffeine. Why? That's a very good question.

The latest creation is not a new idea. Researchers have been engineering organisms for years to feed on undesirable substances and then produce harmless ones. The concept could have major implications for cleaning up oil spills or, in this case, decontaminating wastewater.

Because of the amount of coffee, soda, tea, energy drinks and certain medications that we take, caffeine and related chemical compounds have continually seeped into our water supply over the years. This prompted the current research into a way to more easily remove caffeine from water. The question was how to do it.

It turns out that there's a natural way. A naturally occurring soil bacterium known as Pseudomonas putida CBB5 can actually live solely on caffeine and could potentially be used to clean up environmental contamination. In order to utilize this particular bacterium's attributes, researchers decided to transfer the genetic material used for metabolizing caffeine and place it into the more easily handled E. Coli.

The transfer was a success. In order to test their new, caffeine "addicted" strain of E. Coli, the researchers used the bacteria to decaffeinate and measure the caffeine content of beverages. It turned out that the bacteria could indeed accomplish what the researchers set out for it to do.

Yet it's not all about the caffeine. The researchers also pointed out that the synthetic packet of genes for breaking down caffeine and related compounds could be easily moved to other microbes. This could have huge implications for safety and the creation of other strains that could perform the same function in different conditions. In addition, the genetic packet could also be used as a sensor to measure caffeine levels in beverages and to recover nutrient-rich byproducts of coffee processing. It could even be used for the cost-effective bioproduction of medicines.

Whatever it's finally used for, just be sure that it's nowhere near your first cup of coffee for the day.

The findings were published in the journal ACS Synthetic Biology.

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