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Metabolic Engineering Working Group

 
               
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Re-Engineering Bacteria for Fuels and Chemicals 

L. O. Ingram, S. Zhou, K.T. Shanmugam, B.E. Wood, & T.B. Causey

University of Florida 

Objective:   

Development of new industries that produce renewable fuels and chemicals from plant biomass using genetically engineered bacteria 

Approach:   

Bacteria are capable of efficiently transforming all of the sugar constituents of plants into a myriad of solvents, fuels, and other chemicals as renewable alternatives to petroleum-based chemicals.  
Fundamental research has provided new genetic tools and an extensive background of information concerning the biochemistry, physiology and genetic code of microorganisms.  
Combining this wealth of background information with new genetic tools now allow the rational redesign of cellular metabolism to produce specific products of commercial interest.   

Accomplishments: 

Our early studies demonstrated the feasibility of this metabolic engineering approach by replacing the mixed acid fermentation pathway in one organism with a homo-ethanol pathway (like that in yeasts) from another bacterium.
Resulting strains were unlike any previously known from nature and efficiently convert hexose and pentose sugars into ethanol.  
Based in part on this demonstration, subsequent researchers have now engineered many new bacterial biocatalysts for the commercial production of propanediols (Cargil, Dupont), pyruvate (assorted small foreign companies), lactate (Tate and Lyle),  succinic acid (Carbochemicals), ethanol (BCI, Marubaeni-TSK. others), and 3-hydroxypropionate (Cargill).  
Additional research has demonstrated the feasibility engineering strains for acetic acid, propanol, acetone and other solvents with many opportunities yet to be explored.   

Impact: 

The combination of investment in fundamental research to expand the range of possibility coupled with the desire by many to improve the environment and long-term profitability by replacing petroleum-based chemicals  with cleaner, greener, renewable products offers the near term opportunity for many new industries and many new jobs. 

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