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Synthetic Biology

[Due to the increasing size of the archives, each topic page now contains only the prior 365 days of content. Access to older stories is now solely through the Monthly Archive pages or the site search function.]

Global Bioenergies plans to acquire Dutch start-up Syngip; gaseous carbon feedstocks for renewable isobutene process

December 21, 2016

Global Bioenergies, the developer of a process to convert renewable resources into light olefin hydrocarbons via fermentation (with an initial focus on isobutene) (earlier post), signed a contribution agreement with the shareholders of Syngip B.V. to transfer all Syngip shares to Global Bioenergies S.A. Syngip is a third-generation industrial biotech start-up created in 2014 in the Netherlands that has developed a process to convert gaseous carbon sources such as CO2, CO, and industrial emissions such as syngas, into various valuable chemical compounds.

Syngip has identified a specific micro-organism capable of growing using these gaseous carbon sources as its sole feedstock, and has developed genetic tools to allow the implementation of artificial metabolic pathways into it. Its recent work has been directed to the implementation of metabolic pathways leading to light olefins: major petrochemical molecules, which include isobutene.

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Global Bioenergies reports first production of green isobutene at demo plant

December 15, 2016

Global Bioenergies is now entering the final phase of demonstrating its technology for converting renewable carbon into hydrocarbons. The first trials on the demo plant in Leuna were successfully completed, within schedule, in the fall of 2016 and Global Bioenergies announced first production of green isobutene via fermentation. (Earlier post.)

With a nameplate capacity of 100 tons/year, the demo plant will allow the conversion of various resources (industrial-grade sugar from beets and cane, glucose syrup from cereals, second-generation sugars extracted from wheat straw, bagasse, wood chips…), into high-purity isobutene.

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Synthetic biology startup Lygos closes $13M Series A to target oil-based specialty chemical industry

December 13, 2016

Lygos, Inc., a bio-based specialty chemicals company, closed $13 million in Series A financing led by IA Ventures and OS Fund. Other investors include First Round Capital, the Y Combinator Continuity Fund, 50 Years and Vast Ventures, along with notable angel investors. Lygos produces high-value specialty chemical traditionally produced in oil-based petrochemical processes in a process that commercially proven, acid-tolerant yeast and domestic sugars instead of petroleum, and has pioneered the world’s first bio-based production of malonic acid (a C3-dicarboxylic acid). (Earlier post.)

The current process used to produce malonic acid requires sodium cyanide and chloroacetic acid; Lygos’ engineered yeast produces malonic acid from sugar and CO2. Many Lygos target products are organic acids—compounds that are expensive to synthesize using petrochemistry but can be produced at high theoretical yield microbially.

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Researchers generate methane from CO2 in one light-driven step using engineered bacteria

August 25, 2016

Using an engineered strain of the phototropic bacterium Rhodopseudomonas palustris as a biocatalyst, a team from the University of Washington, Utah State University and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University have reduced carbon dioxide to methane in one enzymatic step.

The work demonstrates the feasibility of using microbes to generate hydrocarbons (i.e., CH4 in this case) from CO2 in one enzymatic step using light energy. A paper on their work is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

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MIT, Novogy team engineers microbes for competitive advantage in industrial fermentation; the ROBUST strategy

August 06, 2016

Researchers at MIT and startup Novogy have engineered bacteria and yeast (Escherichia coli, Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Yarrowia lipolytica) used as producer microbes in biofuel production to use rare compounds as sources of nutrients. The technique, described in a paper in the journal Science, provides the producer microbes with competitive advantage over other, contaminating microbes with minimal external risks, given that engineered biocatalysts only have improved fitness within the customized fermentation environment.

Ethanol is toxic to most microorganisms other than the yeast used to produce it, naturally preventing contamination of the fermentation process. However, this is not the case for the more advanced biofuels and biochemicals under development. Thus, one problem facing the production of advanced biofuels via large-scale fermentation of complex low-cost feedstocks (e.g., sugarcane or dry-milled corn) is the contamination of fermentation vessels with other, unwanted microbes that can outcompete the designated producer microbes for nutrients, reducing yield and productivity.

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American Refining Group taking 1/3 stake in Amyris/Cosan Novvi JV; accelerating commercialization of renewable base oil and lubricants

July 19, 2016

American Refining Group (ARG) is taking a 33.3% stake in Novvi LLC, a joint venture of Amyris and Brazil-based Cosan S.A. formed in 2011 to produce renewable base oils and lubricants from Amyris’ Biofene—Amyris’s brand of a renewable, long-chain, branched hydrocarbon molecule called farnesene (trans-ß-farnesene). (Earlier post.) Both Amyris and Cosan will continue to hold share ownership stakes in Novvi, together with ARG.

Biofene is the basis for a wide range of products varying from specialty products such as cosmetics, perfumes, detergents and industrial lubricants, to transportation fuels such as diesel and jet fuel.

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JBEI, UCSD scientists develop systems biology-based workflow to improve biofuels productivity

May 21, 2016

Researchers at the US Department of Energy (DOE)’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), in collaboration with researchers at the University of California, San Diego, have developed a workflow that integrates various “omics” data and genome-scale models to study the effects of biofuel production in a microbial host.

The development of omics technologies, such as metabolomics and proteomics, and systems biology have significantly enhanced the ability to understand biological phenomena. Nevertheless, the interpretation of large omics data into meaningful “knowledge” as well as the understanding of complex metabolic interactions in engineered microbes remains challenging. This new open-source workflow—which integrates various omics data and genome-scale models—drives the transition from vision to conception of a designed working phenotype.

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New renewable hydrocarbon fuel pathway uses platform molecule acetoin produced by biomass fermentation

March 30, 2016

Researchers at Nanjing Tech University in China have developed a new pathway for the production of liquid hydrocarbon fuels from lignocellulose. The new Nanjing Tech process uses acetoin—a novel C4 platform molecule derived from new ABE (acetoin–butanol–ethanol)-type fermentation via metabolic engineering—as a bio-based building block for the production of the liquid hydrocarbon fuels.

In a paper published in the RSC journal Green Chemistry, the Nanjing Tech team reported producing a series of diesel or jet fuel range C9–C14 straight, branched, or cyclic alkanes in excellent yields by means of C–C coupling followed by hydrodeoxygenation reactions.

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Berkeley Lab researchers devise new technique to reduce lignin and increase sugar yields; lowering biomass pretreatment costs

February 25, 2016

Scientists from the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and Joint BioEnergy Institute have devised a new strategy for reducing lignin in plants by modifying a key metabolic entrypoint for the synthesis of the most important lignin monomers.

The new technique, reported in an open-access paper in the journal Plant & Cell Physiology, could help lower the cost of converting biomass into lower carbon biofuels and bio-products.

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UCR team advances direct production of chemical and fuel precursors in yeast

January 28, 2016

A team led by a researcher at the University of California, Riverside has adapted the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing system for use in a yeast strain that can produce useful lipids and polymers. The development will lead to new precursors for biofuels, specialty polymers, adhesives and fragrances.

Published recently in an open-access paper in the journal ACS Synthetic Biology, the research involves the oleaginous (oil-producing) yeast Yarrowia lipolytica, which is known for converting sugars to lipids and hydrocarbons that are difficult to make synthetically. Until now, Y. lipolytica has been hard to manipulate at the genetic level, but the application of CRISPR-Cas9 will change that, allowing scientists to tap into its bio-manufacturing potential.

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