Doubly Engineered Microbes For Biofuels | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 89 Issue 49 | p. 35 | Concentrates
Issue Date: December 5, 2011

Doubly Engineered Microbes For Biofuels

E. coli endowed with genes to digest cellulose and ferment sugars could streamline future biofuel production
Department: Science & Technology
News Channels: Environmental SCENE
Keywords: biofuels, consolidated bioprocessing, synthetic biology, genetic engineering, transportation

A multi-institutional research team has succeeded in genetically engineering both biomass-degrading and biofuel-producing capabilities into a single microorganism. This so-called consolidated bioprocess eliminates the need for a separate enzymatic process to hydrolyze cellulose and hemicellulose, which has been a cost barrier to commercial production of fully renewable transportation fuels. Led by Gregory Bokinsky and Jay D. Keasling of the Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute, the researchers first engineered Escherichia coli to produce a suite of enzymes that convert switchgrass into fermentable sugars. They pretreat the switchgrass with an ionic liquid to loosen the plant fibers and reduce lignin content. The team also endowed the bacterium with the genes needed to convert the sugars into different fuel feedstocks: One version produces butanol for gasoline, a second version produces fatty acid ethyl esters for diesel fuel, and a third version produces pinene for jet fuel (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1106958108). Bruce E. Dale, a biofuels expert at Michigan State University, gives the research team “full marks” for demonstrating an important proof of concept. But to achieve a commercial process, Dale adds, the digestion and fermentation capabilities of the E. coli strains require significant improvements.

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ISSN 0009-2347
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ABAZZI (December 16, 2011 4:13 PM)
Pinene needs a double bond.
Steve (December 19, 2011 1:26 PM)
Thanks for noticing the missing bond. The structure shown is didehydro pinene. The molecule has structural isomers, α-pinene, with a double bond in the ring, and β-pinene, with a double bond external to the ring. In the PNAS paper, the researchers don’t specify which type their engineered microbe makes. But buried deep in the supporting information is a hint that it is α-pinene.

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