CAMBRIDGE, Mass. In the search for renewable alternatives to gasoline, heavy alcohols such as isobutanol are promising candidates. Not only do they contain more energy than ethanol, but they are also more compatible with existing gasoline-based infrastructure. For isobutanol to become practical, however, scientists need a way to reliably produce huge quantities of it from renewable sources.
MIT chemical engineers and biologists have now devised a way to dramatically boost isobutanol production in yeast, which naturally make it in small amounts. They engineered yeast so that isobutanol synthesis takes place entirely within mitochondria, cell structures that generate energy and also host many biosynthetic pathways. Using this approach, they were able to boost isobutanol production by about 260 percent.
Though still short of the scale needed for industrial production, the advance suggests that this is a promising approach to engineering not only isobutanol but other useful chemicals as well, says Gregory Stephanopoulos, an MIT professor of chemical engineering and one of the senior authors of a paper describing the work in the Feb. 17 online edition of Nature Biotechnology.
"It's not specific to isobutanol," Stephanopoulos says. "It's opening up the opportunity to make a lot of biochemicals inside an organelle that may be much better suited for this purpose compared to the cytosol of the yeast cells."
Stephanopoulos collaborated with Gerald Fink, an MIT professor of biology and member of the Whitehead Institute, on this research. The lead author of the paper is Jose Avalos, a postdoc at the Whitehead Institute and MIT.
Historically, researchers have tried to decrease isobutanol production in yeast, because it can ruin the flavor of wine and beer. However, "now there's been a push to try to make it for fuel and other chemical purposes," says Avalos, the paper's lead author.
Yeast typically produce isobut
|Contact: Caroline McCall|
Massachusetts Institute of Technology