Research highlight

Biofuels by bugs

Nature Chemical Biology

February 28, 2011

A strategy to produce greater yield of butanol ― a ‘green’ biofuel ― using microbes is presented this in a paper published this week in Nature Chemical Biology.

Microbial production of biofuels is critically needed to reduce our dependence on oil. Butanol is produced by some bacteria naturally, but not in large amounts. Scientists have previously used synthetic construction of metabolic pathways through genetic manipulations, to create new routes to this gas alternative. However, the yields have remained low.

Michelle Chang and colleagues considered the role of individual enzymes in the process, and utilized proteins that would be most likely to perform the desired reaction rather than allowing the reverse, undesired reaction. The final process yielded 4.65 grams of butanol per liter, which is equal to a high conversion of 30% of the initial substrate, glucose, into the desired product.

doi: 10.1038/nchembio.537

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