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Press release : Engineering bacteria to design vaccines

EU funded Project combines gene engineering and biotechnology to design a veterinary vaccine chassis based on the living organism Mycoplasma pneumoniae.

. © INRA
Published on 05/07/2015
  • Researchers will put together their extensive systems biology knowledge and cutting-edge synthetic biology methodologies to engineer a universal chassis, which will be free of virulence and optimized for fast growth in a serum-free medium.
  • The resulting chassis will be used to create specific vaccines against two pathogens that are causing suffering in livestock animals and large financial losses in the animal industry. It also will set the basis for other potential applications such as cell therapy, infectious lung disease treatment, etc.
  • MycoSynVac is a 8 M€ H2020 EU project coordinated by scientists at the Centre for Genomic Regulation in Barcelona (Spain) and with participation of partners in The Netherlands, France, UK, Germany, Denmark and Austria.

Mycosplasma is a genus of bacteria that are the smallest cell wall-less, free living organisms. The lack of a cell wall makes them resistant to almost all antibiotics, so every year infections caused by Mycoplasma in poultry, cows, and pigs, 
result in multimillion euros losses in Europe, the US and elsewhere. Even though there are vaccines against two species of Mycoplasma affecting pigs and poultry; there is no vaccination against many Mycoplasma species infecting pets, humans and farm animals.

Now, the H2020 EU project called “MycoSynVac” aims to bio-engineer Mycoplasma pneumoniae as a universal chassis for vaccination by using cutting-edge synthetic biology methodologies. "We will engineer a new bacteria that will be used as a vaccine", explains Luis Serrano, Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG) director and co-coordinator of this project. "We will remove the genes that make the bacteria pathogenic and will improve the chassis for an optimized growth in a serum-free medium. Then, by expressing specific harmless antigens from one or more pathogens, we will be able to create targeted vector vaccines. We have been working for a long time to deeply understand Mycoplasma pneumoniae and now, we are ready to take a step forward and use this knowledge for the benefit of society”, adds Maria Lluch, staff scientist at the CRG and scientific co-coordinator of MycoSynVac. A second phase of this project includes targeting the development of attenuated (with the pathogen still alive) and/or inactivated vaccines (with a killed pathogen) against M. hyopneumoniae, which is infecting pigs; and M. bovis, which infects cattle.

"This project pursues an ambitious challenge and it is important for us to take into account not only the technical details but its societal and ethical dimensions", agree both coordinators. So, in order to better address all these aspects, the consortium for this project includes research groups working on gene engineering and design of biological systems at the Centre for Genomic Regulation (Barcelona, Spain), the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (Bordeaux, France), the Wageningen University (Wageningen, The Netherlands) and the Imperial College (London, UK); the animal health company MSD Animal Health (Boxmeer, The Netherlands); the biotech company working in functional bioinformatics ATG biosynthetics (Merzhausen, Germany); a research group focused in the bioethical aspects of this project at the University of Copenhagen (Copenhagen, Denmark); and the risk assessment and public engagement company Biofaction (Vienna, Austria).

Improving animal health & more

There is no effective vaccination against many Mycoplasmas that infect pets, humans and farm animals. Furthermore, most Mycoplasmas are difficult to grow without the presence of other organisms, requiring a complex media that includes animal serum. Consequently, even in those cases for which effective vaccines are available, the production process of the vaccines is hardly reproducible and prone to contamination by viruses.  
In order to meet the needs of the livestock industry, MycoSynVac will capitalize on the extensive systems biology knowledge of M. pneumoniae from its partners and on cutting-edge synthetic biology methodologies to design a universal Mycoplasma chassis that can be deployed as single- or multi-vaccine in a range of animal hosts. Also, the engineered bacterium will grow efficiently and reproducibly in a defined serum-free medium, which will significantly improve its production, quality and efficiency.
Finally, researchers also foresee that the generated Mycoplasma chassis will be further developed for other vaccines as well as for other potential applications such as cell therapy, infectious lung disease therapy, etc.

. © INRA, UE
MycoSynVac, that has been launched today at the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG) in Barcelona, is a 5 years project. This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 634942
Press Relations:
Laia Cendrós (Centre for Genomic Regulation – Press Officer) (Tel. +34 93 316 0237 – Mob. +34 607 611 798)