[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.]
UCLA engineers develop new metabolic pathway for more efficient conversion of glucose into biofuels; possible 50% increase in biorefinery yield
October 01, 2013
Researchers at UCLA led by Dr. James Liao have created a new synthetic metabolic pathway for breaking down glucose that could lead to a 50% increase in the production of biofuels. The new pathway is intended to replace the natural metabolic pathway known as glycolysis, a series of chemical reactions that nearly all organisms use to convert sugars into the molecular precursors that cells need. The research is published in the journal Nature.
Native glycolytic pathways—a number of which have been discovered—oxidize the six-carbon sugar glucose into pyruvate and thence into two-carbon molecules known acetyl-CoA for either further oxidation or biosynthesis of cell constituents and products, including fatty acids, amino acids, isoprenoids and alcohols. However, the two remaining glucose carbons are lost as carbon dioxide.
ARPA-E awarding $3.5M to Berkeley Lab project to develop novel enzymatic gas-to-liquids pathway
September 22, 2013
On 19 September, the Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) awarded $34 million to 15 projects to find advanced biocatalyst technologies that can convert natural gas to liquid fuel for transportation. (Earlier post.) The largest award in the technical area of High-Efficiency Biological Methane Activation in the new program, (Reducing Emissions using Methanotrophic Organisms for Transportation Energy—REMOTE, earlier post), provides $3.5 million to a team led by Dr. Christer Jansson at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) to work on a novel methylation process to convert natural gas to liquid transportation fuels.
The project, called “Enzyme Engineering for Direct Methane Conversion,” involves designing a novel enzyme—a PEP methyltransferase (PEPMase)—by engineering an existing enzyme to accept methane instead of carbon dioxide. This methylation process, which does not exist in nature, will be used as the basis for the gas-to-liquids pathway.
DARPA awards WUSTL researcher $860,000 to engineer E. coli to produce gasoline-range molecules
September 13, 2013
The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) of the US Department of Defense has awarded Dr. Fuzhong Zhang, assistant professor of energy, environmental & chemical engineering at Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL) a Young Faculty Award worth $860,000 to engineer the bacterium Escherichia coli to produce gasoline-range molecules.
Zhang’s award funds up to three years of research on his plan to engineer bacteria to produce non-natural fatty acids, which can be converted to advanced biofuels and chemicals. Zhang will engineer the fatty acid pathway to make a molecule with a chemical structure similar to isooctane—a major component in gasoline.
New materials for bio-based hydrogen synthesis; synthetic biology enables spontaneous protein activation
August 13, 2013
Researchers at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) (Germany), with colleagues from the MPI (Max Planck Institute) Mülheim and Université Grenoble, have discovered an efficient process for hydrogen biocatalysis. They developed semi-synthetic hydrogenases—hydrogen-generating enzymes—by adding the protein’s biological precursor to a chemically synthesized inactive iron complex.
From these two components, the biological catalyst formed spontaneously in a test tube, thus greatly simplifying the design and production of hydrogenases. The team reports on their work in a paper in the journal Nature Chemical Biology.
UK government establishing £10M center for synthetic biology with focus on industrialization
July 11, 2013
The UK is launching a new £10-million (US$15-million) Innovation and Knowledge Centre (IKC) to translate the emerging field of synthetic biology into application and provide a bridge between academia and industry. The IKC, to be called SynbiCITE, will be based at Imperial College London and led by Professor Richard Kitney and Professor Paul Freemont.
The main aim of SynbiCITE will be to act as an Industrial Translation Engine that can integrate university- and industry-based research in synthetic biology into industrial process and products. Announcing the funding at SB6.0 (the 6th International Conference on Synthetic Biology), David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, said:
Univ. of Exeter team engineers unique biological pathway for the production of diesel range hydrocarbons by E. coli
April 23, 2013
A team from the University of Exeter (UK), with support from Shell Technology Centre Thorton, has modified strains of E. coli bacteria to produce “petroleum-replica” hydrocarbons in the diesel range. While the technology still faces many significant commercialization challenges, the resulting drop-in fuel is almost identical to conventional diesel fuel and so does not need to be blended with petroleum products as is often required by biodiesels derived from plant oils.
In an open access paper on their work published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, the researchers note that their work—rather than reconstituting existing metabolic routes to alkane production found in nature—demonstrated the ability to design and to implement artificial molecular pathways for the production of renewable, industrially relevant fuel molecules.
DOE awards $10 million to 5 projects for advanced biofuels and bio-based products
January 03, 2013
The US Department of Energy announced more than $10 million in funding to five new projects that will develop new synthetic biological and chemical techniques to convert biomass into advanced biofuels and bioproducts such as plastics and chemical intermediates.
Two of these projects will develop cost-effective ways to produce intermediates from the deconstruction of lignocellulosic biomass, while three projects will propose new conversion techniques to transform biomass intermediates into advanced biofuels and bioproducts.
Proterro secures $3.5M in new funding to advance its noncellulosic sucrose for biofuels and biobased chemicals; progress on patent on sucrose-producing cyanobacteria
December 18, 2012
|Proterro engineered cyanobacteria for continuous high-yield production of sucrose, which can then be used in the production of biofuels and biochemicals. Source: Proterro. Click to enlarge.|
Proterro, Inc.—the only company making sugar instead of extracting it from crops—has closed on a $3.5-million financing round led by current investor Braemar Energy Ventures. Proterro has engineered cyanobacteria (from the group consisting of Synechococcus and Synechocystis) that naturally produce only sucrose to secrete the sucrose in a continuous, high-yield process. The sucrose can then be used in the production of biofuels and biochemicals. (Earlier post.)
In addition, the company announced it has received a notice of allowance from the United States Patent and Trademark Office on a cornerstone composition of matter patent (US Patent Application No. 12/348,887) protecting the company’s sucrose-producing cyanobacteria and their new genetic code.
MIT team develops new synthetic pathway and modular engineering toolkit for direct biosynthesis of odd-chain molecules for fuels and chemicals
November 03, 2012
Researchers at MIT have adapted the butanol pathway for the synthesis of odd-chain molecules and have also developed a complementary modular toolkit to facilitate pathway construction, characterization, and optimization in engineered Escherichia coli bacteria.
The modular nature of the pathway enables multi-entry and multi-exit biosynthesis of various odd-chain compounds at high efficiency. By varying combinations of the pathway and toolkit enzymes, they demonstrated controlled production of propionate, trans-2-pentenoate, valerate, and pentanol—compounds with applications that include biofuels, antibiotics, biopolymers, and aroma chemicals.
Calysta Energy engineering organisms to convert methane to low-cost liquid hydrocarbons; BioGTL process
October 22, 2012
|Calysta is using its proprietary BioGTL biological gas-to-liquids platform to convert natural gas to liquid hydrocarbons. Click to enlarge.|
Start-up Calysta Energy plans to use methane as a feedstock for engineered organisms to produce liquid hydrocarbon fuels and high value chemicals that are cost-effective, scalable and reduce environmental impact.
Current technology approaches to creating new fuels and chemicals have failed to achieve necessary market economics, creating a significant worldwide market opportunity, according to the biotech company. Calysta says that in contrast to current algae- and sugar-based methods, a methane-based biofuel platform is expected to produce fuel at less than half the cost of other biological methods, allowing direct competition with petroleum-based fuels.