Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

The Future of Metabolic Engineering – Designer Molecules, Cells and Microorganisms

03.12.2010
Will we one day design and create molecules, cells and microorganisms that produce specific chemical products from simple, readily-available, inexpensive starting materials? Will the synthetic organic chemistry now used to produce pharmaceutical drugs, plastics and a host of other products eventually be surpassed by metabolic engineering as the mainstay of our chemical industries? Yes, according to Jay Keasling, chemical engineer and one of the world’s foremost practitioners of metabolic engineering.

In a paper published in the journal Science titled “Manufacturing molecules through metabolic engineering,” Keasling discusses the potential of metabolic engineering – one of the principal techniques of modern biotechnology – for the microbial production of many of the chemicals that are currently derived from non-renewable resources or limited natural resources. Examples include, among a great many other possibilities, the replacement of gasoline and other transportation fuels with clean, green and renewable biofuels.

“Continued development of the tools of metabolic engineering will be necessary to expand the range of products that can be produced using biological systems, Keasling says. “However, when more of these tools are available, metabolic engineering should be just as powerful as synthetic organic chemistry, and together the two disciplines can greatly expand the number of chemical products available from renewable resources.”

Keasling is the chief executive officer for the Joint BioEnergy Institute, a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) bioenergy research center. He also holds joint appointments with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), where he oversees that institute’s biosciences research programs, and the University of California (UC), Berkeley, where he serves as director of the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center, and is the Hubbard Howe Jr. Distinguished Professor of Biochemical Engineering.

Metabolic engineering is the practice of altering genes and metabolic pathways within a cell or microorganism to increase its production of a specific substance. Keasling led one of the most successful efforts to date in the application of metabolic engineering, when he combined it with synthetic organic chemistry techniques to develop a microbial-based means of producing artemisinin, the most potent of all anti-malaria drugs. He and his research group at JBEI are now applying that same combination to the synthesis of liquid transportation fuels from lignocellulosic biomass. In all cases, the goal is to engineer microbes to perform as much of the chemistry required to produce a desired final product as possible.

“To date, microbial production of natural chemical products has been achieved by transferring product-specific enzymes or entire metabolic pathways from rare or genetically intractable organisms to those that can be readily engineered,” Keasling says. “Production of non-natural specialty chemicals, bulk chemicals, and fuels has been enabled by combining enzymes or pathways from different hosts into a single microorganism, and by engineering enzymes to have new function.”

These efforts have utilized well-known, industrial microorganisms, but future efforts, he says, may include designer molecules and cells that are tailor-made for the desired chemical and production process.

“In any future, metabolic engineering will soon rival and potentially eclipse synthetic organic chemistry,” Keasling says.

Keasling cites the production of active pharmaceutical ingredients as one area where metabolic engineering enjoys a distinct advantage over synthetic organic chemistry. This includes three specific classes of chemicals – alkaloids, which are primarily derived from plants; polyketides and non-ribosomal peptides, which are produced by various bacteria and fungi; and isoprenoids, which also are typically produced by microbes.

“Many of these natural products are too complex to be chemically synthesized and yet have a value that justifies the cost of developing a genetically engineered microorganism,” Keasling says. “The cost of starting materials is generally a small fraction of the complete cost of these products, and relatively little starting material is necessary so availability is not an issue.”

Keasling also says that metabolic engineering could provide a valuable alternative means of producing variations of terpenes, the hydrocarbon compounds common to the resins of conifers, in a form that could yield pharmaceuticals that are more effective for the treatment of human disease than the forms that nature has provided.

Perhaps the ripest targets of opportunity for future metabolic engineering efforts are petroleum-based bulk chemical products, including gasoline and other fuels, polymers and solvents. Because such products can be inexpensively catalyzed from petroleum, microbial production has until now been rare, but with fluctuating oil prices, dwindling resources and other considerations, the situation, Keasling says, has changed.

“It is now possible to consider production of these inexpensive bulk chemicals from low-cost starting materials, such as starch, sucrose, or cellulosic biomass with a microbial catalyst,” he says. “The key to producing these bulk chemicals in metabolically-engineered cells will be our ability to make the exact molecule needed for existing products rather than something ‘similar but green’ that will require extensive product testing before it can be used.”

In his Science paper, Keasling discusses the formidable roadblocks that stand in the way of a future in which microorganisms and molecules can be tailor-made through metabolic engineering, including the need for “debugging routines” that can find and fix errors in engineered cells. However, he is convinced these roadblocks can and will be overcome.

“One can even envision a day when cell manufacturing is done by different companies, each specializing in certain aspects of the synthesis, with one company constructing the chromosome, one company building the membrane and cell wall bag, and one company filling this bag with the basic molecules needed to boot up the cell.”

The Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) is one of three Bioenergy Research Centers funded by the U.S. Department of Energy to advance the development of the next generation of biofuels. It is a scientific partnership led by Berkeley Lab and including the Sandia National Laboratories, the University of California campuses of Berkeley and Davis, the Carnegie Institution for Science, and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

The Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC) is a multi-institution partnership, funded by the National Science Foundation, that is aimed at “making biology easier to engineer.” The SynBERC partnership is led by UC Berkeley and includes UC San Francisco, Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and Prairie View A&M University.

Berkeley Lab is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory located in Berkeley, California. It conducts unclassified scientific research and is managed by the University of California for the DOE Office of Science. Visit our Website at www.lbl.gov/

Additional Information

For more information about the research group of Jay Keasling, visit the Website at http://keaslinglab.lbl.gov/wiki/index.php/Main_Page

For more information about JBEI, visit the Website at www.jbei.org

For more information about the DOE Bioenergy Research Centers visit the Website at http://genomicscience.energy.gov/

For more information about SynBERC visit the Website at http://www.synberc.org/

Lynn Yarris | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.lbl.gov

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Modern genetic sequencing tools give clearer picture of how corals are related
17.08.2017 | University of Washington

nachricht The irresistible fragrance of dying vinegar flies
16.08.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für chemische Ökologie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Gold shines through properties of nano biosensors

17.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Greenland ice flow likely to speed up: New data assert glaciers move over sediment, which gets more slippery as it gets wetter

17.08.2017 | Earth Sciences

Mars 2020 mission to use smart methods to seek signs of past life

17.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>