Researchers invent oxygen generation method in cells

By The Science Advisory Board staff writers

October 13, 2022 -- Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers have engineered cells to make oxygen on demand in response to an added chemical. Doing so may eventually improve medical therapies in the future that are ineffective when oxygen levels drop.

In an October 10 article published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers describe the technology that harnesses prokaryotic chlorite O2-lyase (Cld) enzymes and convert chlorite (ClO2-) into molecular oxygen (O2) and chloride (Cl-). Active Cld enzymes can be targeted to either the cytosol or mitochondria of human cells. Coexpressing a chlorite transporter results in molecular oxygen production inside cells in response to externally added chlorite.

The genetic technology is dubbed SNORCL: SupplemeNtal Oxygen Released from ChLorite. The first-generation SNORCL can produce short and modest pulses of oxygen inside cells in response to added chlorite. In the near term, the technology could be used to evaluate the role of oxygen in signaling, metabolism, and physiology in greater detail.

In the future, technologies based on SNORCL could have clinical uses, according to the researchers. For instance, tumors with low oxygen levels limit the effectiveness of some anticancer therapies and the technology could improve that effectiveness.

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