On September 29, a Korean research team led by Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) published a paper entitled Microbial Production of Short-chain Alkanes. The paper discussed a groundbreaking new strategy for microbial gasoline production through metabolic engineering of E. coli.
Professor Sang Yup Lee’s research team developed the fatty acid metabolism to provide fatty acid derivatives that are shorter than normal intracellular fatty acid metabolites, which introduced an atypical synthetic pathway for the biosynthesis of short-chain alkanes. Thus, an E. coli strain was born that is able to produce gasoline and can be modified to create short-chain fatty esters and alcohols just by introducing responsible enzymes into the same platform strain.
The researchers developed strategies to screen enzymes associated with the fatty acids, engineer enzymes and fatty acid biosynthetic pathways to focus carbon flux toward the short-chain fatty acid production, and to convert short-chain fatty acids to corresponding alkanes (gasoline) by introducing synthetic pathway and optimization of culture conditions.
This may be the birth of sustainable production of gasoline. For the first time ever, the production of gasoline through the metabolic engineering of E. coli to produce fuels and chemicals from renewable resources has occurred, hopefully paving the way for other endeavors.