New, better biofuel process using E. coli production booster: new research

August 14, 2016 |

In Missouri, engineers at Washington University have found a new way to boost biofuel production in E. coli bacteria by altering its protein structure. Fuzhong Zhang, assistant professor in the Department of Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering, along with researchers in his lab, reported in the journal Metabolic Engineering that they have discovered a new method to cut out a major stumbling block to production process.

Branched-chain fatty acids are important precursors to the production of freeze-resistant or improved cold-flow biofuels. Past attempts to engineer E. coli that churned out BCFA also made a large amount of SCFA, and made it difficult to isolate the BCFA for future use.

“From the process aspect, common bacteria produce mostly SCFA,” Zhang said. “That is really not the best fuel to use. Previously, the best you could do was a 20 percent BCFA concentration. Then you needed to use some additional chemical processes to separate the BCFA from the SCFA and enrich it. It consumes so much energy that it’s not cost-effective. Instead, our approach engineers this organism so it can produce something as close to 100 percent BCFA as possible,” he said.

By developing two different protein pathways that chemically affect the bacteria, Zhang’s team fixed what it called a bottleneck in the BCFA production line. The protein pathways enabled the E. coli to boost its BCFA manufacture to 80 percent of all fuel products.

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Category: Research

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