New technology aids quest for dormant genes

E. coli petri dish

English chemist Alexander Fleming may have been brilliant, but he was also lucky. In 1928 he caught a Penicillium mold in the act of warding off bacteria with what was destined to become the 20th century’s premier antibiotic.

The story of penicillin is one of many in which organisms like bacteria, fungi and plants have been found to harbor genes for substances with the potential to improve human health and even save lives. But it’s likely that many more such genes lie hidden because the organisms don’t need them often enough for scientists to detect their handiwork.

Michael Smanski doesn’t want to wait. An assistant professor of biochemistry, molecular biology and biophysics in the U’s College of Biological Sciences, Smanski has developed a technology to quickly search organisms for genes that could make the next great antibiotic or anticancer drug. His methods also allow him to find the best way to assemble the parts of those genes so they can function optimally.

Read the full story in Minnesota Alumni