The new H2020 European Union-funded MyCoSynVac project is combining gene engineering and biotechnology to design novel vaccines based on the bacterium Mycoplasma pneumoniae. The Mycoplasma genus organisms lack a cell wall, making them resistant to most antibiotics. Therefore, infections caused by Mycoplasma in livestock result in losses worth millions of euros every year in Europe and throughout the world.

No effective vaccines exist against the different mycoplasmas that infect pets, humans and livestock. R&D in this field has been hampered due to the fact that most mycoplasmas are difficult to grow without the presence of other organisms, not to mention that they also require a complex media. Consequently, despite effective vaccines being available, their production process is hardly reproducible and prone to virus contamination.

Mycoplasma pneumoniae. Source: AJC

Mycoplasma pneumoniae. Source: AJC ajcann.wordpress.com

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To meet the needs of the livestock industry, the MyCoSynVac project aims at combining systems and synthetic biology methodologies to design a universal Mycoplasma chassis that can be deployed as a vaccine in a range of animal hosts. Researchers also predict that the generated mycoplasma chassis can be engineered for other vaccines, and used as well for other applications (e.g. cell therapy and infectious lung disease therapy).

According to Luis Serrano, director of the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG) and co-coordinator of this project, the company’s initiative is pursuing an ambitious challenge, and it is importat to take into account not only its technical details, but also its societal and ethical dimensions. The project’s outcome will be a new engineered bacteria to be used, ultimately, as a vaccine.

Maria Lluch, staff scientist at the CRG and scientific co-coordinator of MycoSynVac, explained: “We will remove the genes that make the bacteria pathogenic and the improve the chassis for an optimized growth in a serum-free medium. 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 are now ready to take a step forward and use this knowledge for the benefit of society”.

MycoSynVac is a €8M 5-year project funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research with the participation of industrial and academic partners in Spain, The Netherlands, France, UK, Germany, Denmark and Austria. It was launched last Friday at Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG), an innovative centre for basic research in Barcelona, Spain. The center, englobed in the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park (PRBB) has become a national and international relevant node in the field of biomedicine.

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