Monday, November 05, 2012

MIT Advances in Bio-Synthetic Fuels and Chemicals

MIT researchers are tweaking the synthesis pathways of the E. Coli bacteria to facilitate high efficiency production of a wide range of biofuels and high value chemicals.
Images via GCC

Researchers at MIT have adapted the butanol pathway for the synthesis of odd-chain molecules and have also developed a complementary modular toolkit to facilitate pathway construction, characterization, and optimization in engineered Escherichia coli bacteria.

The modular nature of the pathway enables multi-entry and multi-exit biosynthesis of various odd-chain compounds at high efficiency. By varying combinations of the pathway and toolkit enzymes, they demonstrated controlled production of propionate, trans-2-pentenoate, valerate, and pentanol—compounds with applications that include biofuels, antibiotics, biopolymers, and aroma chemicals.

In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Hsien-Chung Tseng and Kristala L. J. Prather note that their bypass strategy was effective even without the presence of freely membrane-diffusible substrates. The approach could prove useful for optimizing other pathways that use CoA-derivatized intermediates, they suggested, including fatty acid β-oxidation and the mevalonate pathway for isoprenoid synthesis. _GCC
Applications of various fermentation products synthesized from recombinant Escherichia coli strains carrying different combinations of pentanol pathway and CoA-activation/removing toolkit enzymes. Tseng and Prather Supplementary Information.

This type of advance in the genetic design of microbial synthesis promises a certain degree of versatility for the future enterprise of moving away from petro-feedstocks in fuels, polymers, and chemicals production.

As noted here many times, the current abundance of natural gas makes the economical production of biofuels more problematic. But as technologies continue to improve at all levels of supply and production, advanced biosynthesis and advanced bioenergy will gradually increase market share -- beginning as soon as natural gas prices increase.

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