Thursday, February 17, 2011

JBEI and Amyris Take Biotica's Polyketides and Run With Them

Cambridge, UK based Biotica is a medical therapeutics development company specialising in novel polyketide therapeutics. Coincidentally, some of the same processes which Biotica uses to develop powerful new drugs against serious diseases, can also be used to produce advanced biofuels. Emeryville, California's Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), along with JBEI's East Bay neighbor Amyris Inc., are very interested in developing workable methods for the bio-engineering of polyketides into abundant and economical advanced biofuels.

Here is a look at what JBEI is trying to do with polyketides:
environmentally friendly alternatives, a diversity of advanced biofuels, feedstocks, and methods for producing them must be studied and optimized. To this end, Jay Keasling, Leonard Katz, and colleagues at the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) are using synthetic biology to engineer polyketide synthases (PKSs) that can be used to produce carboxylic acids and lactones for biofuel production. (Carboxylic acids can easily be converted to an ester biofuel.) Other laboratories have modified the same type of enzymes for the manufacture of pharmaceutical and agricultural products but the JBEI team is the first to design PKSs to synthesize biofuels or their immediate precursors.

Some of the longer-chain esters that can be produced by the JBEI PKSs could be used in biodiesel blends. The shorter chain esters and the lactones could be used as petroleum additives or in non-hydrophilic, advanced biofuel blends that are compatible with the current fuel infrastructure. Because the JBEI process allows controlled engineering, ester linkages can be placed so that combustion properties of the resulting biofuel are enhanced.

DNA that encodes the engineered enzymes can be introduced into a variety of host organisms capable of fermenting sugars derived from the deconstruction of biomass. The JBEI PKSs can produce the carboxylic acids or lactones in cells or in a cell extract where all the necessary starting materials are present.
Amyris obtained the license from Biotica, and given its location adjacent to JBEI, the two organisations will be conveniently placed to collaborate on this project.

In other news, Chromatim's hybrid sorghums compares well to other sorghums in terms of yield, sugar content, and overall energy content.

Illinois researchers predict that in order to produce a billion metric tons a year of biomass in 2030, the price for the biomass will need to be around US$140 a ton, in 2007 dollars. The prediction is connected to the goal of replacing 30% of petroleum liquid fuels by the year 2030, and is based on the expectation that high-yield grasses such as miscanthus will be widely grown by that time.

What the Illinois researchers fail to realise is that by the year 2030, biomass productivity will be much higher than is currently envisioned. Even so, at the rate that the Obama dollar is inflating, the prices predicted may prove accurate using 2012 dollars.

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