NC State researchers developing probiotic yeast that produces vitamins a body needs

North Carolina

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – When you take a multi-vitamin, your body gets a dose of what it needs and what it may not need. If the gut could just figure out how to produce only the needed vitamins internally.

“Traditionally, what you’d have to do is produce this molecule in a factory somewhere, purify it to high standards of purity, which costs a lot of money, and then move that molecule to the person who needs to take it. In this case, we’re putting the factory inside the person,” said Nathan Crook, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at North Carolina State University. “The microbe itself is relatively cheap to make. Rather than having all that expense with molecule purification, you can do so right in your own gut.”

Researchers at N.C. State have genetically engineered a probiotic yeast that produces beta-carotene in the guts of mice. The hope is that the same concept will work on humans, taking the guessing game out of what we’re deficient in.

The idea is to help populations that suffer from malnutrition and saving everyone money. It could also be a natural defense to illness.

“The goal would be for this to sense your health, and if it senses a disease happening, it would then produce the molecule that you’re interested in,” Crook said.

Most yeast is destroyed by the acid in the gut or can’t be tolerated. Crook and his team’s use of S. boulardii probiotic thrives.

“If these microorganisms are living inside your large intestine, potentially, they could produce something a bit more valuable than just their normal products. We actually wanted to engineer these microbes to produce like a drug or a vitamin from all the food that your body doesn’t care about,” Cook said.

“So, a lot of nutrients go from your small intestine into your large intestine and these nutrients can be used by these bugs to produce something more valuable.”

Using yeast it to produce vitamins inside us may seem a bit far fetched for some. Crook reminded of what’s happened in just a year.

“Basic research is so important to what we do. The notion of funding these very risky ideas is what makes things like the COVID vaccine possible,” he said.

The findings have been published under the title “In situ biomanufacturing of small molecules in the mammalian gut by probiotic Saccharomyces boulardii,” in the journal ACS Synthetic Biology. Co-first authors of the paper are Ph.D students Deniz Durmusoglu and Ibrahim Al’Abri. The paper was co-authored by Scott Collins, a Ph.D. student at N.C. State; Junrui Cheng, a postdoctoral researcher at N.C. State; Abdulkerim Eroglu, an assistant professor of nutrigenomics in the Department of Molecular and Structural Biochemistry and Plants for Human Health Institute at N.C. State; and Chase Beisel, a professor at the Helmholtz Institute for RNA-based Infection Research.

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