Anyone who has dabbled into molecular biology knows that Escherichia coli has been the go-to model organism for quite some time. As an organism that is easy to grow and easy to genetically manipulate in the lab, E. coli has become one of the most commonly used microorganisms in labs that study a variety of biological systems. It has been used to inform the behavior of other bacteria (which may be harder to grow or more difficult to work with). Outside of strictly microbiology research, E. coli has been used to produce many biomolecules by inserting genes needed to produce these molecules into the bacterium.
In a paper published in Nature on August 29, 2016, Weinstock et al. from Synthetic Genomics, Inc. described the development of genetic tools for Vibrio natriegens, a microbe that grows even faster than E. coli and may soon rival E. coli as the laboratory workhorse.
Introducing Vibrio natriegens
V. natriegens was first isolated from enriched marsh mud in 1958 from Sapelo Island, Georgia by William J. Payne of the University of Georgia. Unlike Vibrio cholerae (the causative agent of cholera), V. natriegens is non-pathogenic.
Compared to a lot of microbes, E. coli‘s 20 minute doubling time may seem remarkable. Many microbes take days or weeks to obtain enough biomass to work with in the lab. V. natriegens exceeds the growth rate of E. coli by more than two-fold and has a doubling time of less than 10 minutes! By using V. natriegens in the lab instead of E. coli, experiments that took a few days could be completed in one day.
Making Vibrio natriegens even better
E. coli strains used in the lab are not the same as the E. coli strains found in nature. The strains used in the lab have been modified to make them more genetically tractable. In nature, E. coli (and other bacteria) possess genes that protect themselves from being invaded by foreign DNA. Many times, foreign DNA is dangerous to the cell, particularly if the bacterial cell is hijacked by viruses. The lab strains of E. coli have had these systems removed so that researchers can insert DNA fragments into the bacterium. Weinstock et al. removed these genes from V. natriegens making the bacterium more amenable to lab experiments.
Synthetic Genomics plans to continue optimizing V. natriegenes and will market this bacterium under the name Vmax for research and commercial uses.