Engineering Microbes to Produce Biodiesel Precursors
Biodiesel production typically starts with oil-rich energy crops such as soybean, palm, or rapeseed, which are harvested and converted into fatty acids from which biodiesels or other fuels are derived. The cost of expanding crop production is a limiting factor in allowing biodiesel to compete with fossil fuel sources. One alternative is to avoid the plant entirely and directly synthesize the precursor fatty acids in bacteria, bypassing several upstream steps, reducing production costs, and raising final yields. A team of researchers, including members of the DOE Joint Genome Institute, now has developed a process to engineer bacteria to produce biodiesel with the help of a novel fatty acid synthesis enzyme. The enzyme, identified and characterized from several bacterial sequences, was inserted into the commonly used model microbe E. coli to prove that it was involved in fatty acids synthesis. The fatty acid pathway was further engineered to improve the generation of biodiesel precursors. This new work provides an alternative route for the synthesis of biofuel molecules. The pathway they describe is a first step in the generation of biodiesel and, with further optimization, may lead to the production of a cost-efficient, next-generation biofuel. The results have just been published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology.
Nawabi, P., S. Bauer, N. Kyrpides, and A. Lykidis. 2011. “Engineering Escherichia coli for Biodiesel Production Utilizing a Bacterial Fatty Acid Methyltransferase,” Applied and Environmental Microbiology 77(22), 8052-61. DOI:10.1128/AEM.05046-11.