In Texas, researchers from Rice University have developed a genetically modified e.coli bacteria that can produce butanol, from glucose and mineral salts, about 10 times faster than any previously reported organism.
“Rather than going with the process nature uses to build fatty acids, we reversed the process that it uses to break them apart,” said Ramon Gonzalez, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Rice and lead co-author of the study, which appeared in the most recent issue of Nature.
The team reversed the beta oxidation cycle by selectively manipulating about a dozen genes in e.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.
“We can make many kinds of specialized molecules for many different markets,” Gonzalez said. We can also do this in any organism. That’s another advantage of using reverse-beta oxidation, because the pathway is present in almost every organism.”