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Biological Chemistry

Biochemicals Road Is Mapped

by Melody M. Bomgardner
March 23, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 12

A new National Research Council report says the U.S. can better manufacture chemicals using biological methods by broadening the use of synthetic biology; developing better models and tests of biological processes; and ensuring that regulations, risk assessments, and workforce education are in place. The report was commissioned by the Department of Energy and NSF. It was written by a panel of experts chaired by Thomas M. Connelly Jr., formerly of DuPont. Connelly is now CEO and executive director of the American Chemical Society, C&EN’s publisher. The committee’s vision is to put biological routes to chemicals on par with traditional synthesis. The report notes that biological tools, such as genetically engineered microbes, can make specialty and high-volume chemicals from inputs including sugar, cellulose, waste gases, and even minerals. Using new tools and feedstocks will also result in new chemicals with improved performance or costs, it says. Biotechnology has brought some early successes, including industrial enzymes, 1,3-propanediol, and alcohol-based biofuels, the report notes. But genetics advances used by the pharmaceutical and agricultural industries can create many more chemicals and bring them to market faster.


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