Interfacing Chemical Catalysis with Engineered Microbes for Expanding Biomass-Sourced Materials

Metabolic engineering — a process in which an organism is genetically engineered to produce valuable commodity chemicals from sugar — is a powerful strategy to source industrial chemicals and drugs from biomass. However, several persistent problems limit this approach. Product accumulation can trigger microbe death, which limits titer yields. Moreover, a relatively limited number of discrete chemical products can be produced by metabolic pathways alone, especially in comparison to the massive variety of products that can be produced with synthetic chemistry.

To address these problems, we are interfacing catalytic upgrading reactions with microbial production of chemical building blocks in single-flask processes. Using approaches fundamentally rooted in green chemistry, we are identifying chemical reactions that can upgrade bacterial metabolites concomitantly with bacterial metabolite production. This will greatly expand the types of products that can be sourced from biomass while minimizing toxicity and increasing flux through the system.

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