NREL researchers decipher key photosynthetic enzyme pathway to produce ethylene

June 8, 2022 |

In Colorado, for decades engineers have dreamed of programming organisms to sustainably produce ethylene, a chemical that is nicknamed “the king of petrochemicals” for its importance in plastics. Now, one hopeful pathway to this petrochemical is nearing reality, via a photosynthetic bacterium that is genetically specialized to turn sunlight and carbon dioxide (CO2) into ethylene. But before industry can load up on tanks of living green liquid, researchers are first overcoming some metabolic barriers around ethylene production. 

A cross-institution research team led by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) made important progress toward deciphering the photosynthetic enzyme pathway. In a Nature Communications article titled “A guanidine-degrading enzyme controls stability of ethylene-producing cyanobacteria,” the researchers report their discovery and demonstration that a certain gene can induce stability in bacteria that produce ethylene. Their discovery is a welcome breakthrough, as past attempts at employing this ethylene pathway had led to genetic instability in the bacteria. 

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Category: Research

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