Making biofuels 10 times faster

August 11, 2011

Engineering researchers at Rice University have developed a new method for rapidly converting simple glucose and mineral salts into biofuels and petrochemical substitutes.

The team has reversed the beta oxidation cycle to engineer bacteria that produce the biofuel butanol about 10 times faster than any previously reported organism.

The team reversed the beta oxidation cycle by selectively manipulating about a dozen genes in the bacteria Escherichia coli. They also showed that selective manipulations of particular genes could be used to produce fatty acids of particular lengths, including long-chain molecules like stearic acid and palmitic acid, which have chains of more than a dozen carbon atoms.

This process can make many kinds of specialized molecules for many different markets — using almost any organism (algae or yeast, for example), the researchers said.

Ref.: Clementina Dellomonaco, et al., Engineered reversal of the β-oxidation cycle for the synthesis of fuels and chemicals, Nature, 2011; [DOI:10.1038/nature10333]