New method boosts biofuel production 260 per cent

20 February 2013
By Edward Gent
Mobile version
Share |
A new method for creating renewable fuels within yeast could boost production significantly

A new method for creating renewable fuels within yeast could boost production significantly

A breakthrough in the production of biofuel isobutanol in yeast cells has boosted yields by 260 per cent.

In the search for renewable alternatives to gasoline, heavy alcohols such as isobutanol are promising candidates, as not only do they contain more energy than ethanol, but they are also more compatible with existing gasoline-based infrastructure.

MIT chemical engineers and biologists have now devised a way to dramatically boost isobutanol production in yeast, which naturally make it in small amounts, by engineering yeast so that isobutanol synthesis takes place entirely within mitochondria, cell structures that generate energy and also host many biosynthetic pathways.

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 online journal 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 flavour of wine and beer.

“Now there's been a push to try to make it for fuel and other chemical purposes," said Dr Avalos.

Normally production of isobutanol happens in two stages, with precursors created in the mitochondria before being transported out to the cell’s cytoplasm, where they are converted by a set of enzymes into isobutanol.

Other researchers have tried to express all the enzymes needed for isobutanol biosynthesis in the cytoplasm, but it is difficult to get some of those enzymes to function in the cytoplasm as well as they do in the mitochondria.

The MIT researchers took the opposite approach and moved the second phase, which naturally occurs in the cytoplasm, into the mitochondria and this enzyme relocation boosted the production of isobutanol by 260 per cent, and yields of two related alcohols, isopentanol and 2-methyl-1-butanol, went up even more — 370 and 500 per cent, respectively.

The researchers are now trying to further boost isobutanol yields and reduce production of ethanol, which is still the major product of sugar breakdown in yeast.

"Knocking out the ethanol pathway is an important step in making this yeast suitable for production of isobutanol," Stephanopoulos says. "Then we need to introduce isobutanol synthesis, replacing one with the other, to maintain everything balanced within the cell."

Latest Issue

E&T cover image 1607

"As the dust settles after the referendum result, we consider what happens next. We also look forward to an international summer of sport."

E&T jobs

  • Signal Processing Engineer

    B&W Group
    • Steyning, West Sussex
    • Competitive Salary

    We are looking for a Signal Processing Engineer to support the R&D process on active loudspeaker products.

    • Recruiter: B&W Group

    Apply for this job

  • Principal Mechanical & Electrical Engineer

    De Montfort University
    • Leicestershire
    • Grade G: £36,672 - £46,414 per annum

    Join the Projects Team to develop and manage medium to large projects on the university estate.

    • Recruiter: De Montfort University

    Apply for this job

  • Advanced Commissioning Engineer

    National Grid
    • Nottinghamshire, Nottingham, England
    • £46000 - £57000 per year

    National Grid is at the heart of energy in the UK. The electricity we provide gets the nation to work, powers schools and lights everyone's way home. Our energy network connects the nation, so it's essential that it's continually evolving, advancing and i

    • Recruiter: National Grid

    Apply for this job

  • Electrical Design Engineer

    Oxford Instruments
    • Yatton, Bristol
    • Competitive salary plus excellent benefits

    We are looking for an electrical designer to join our engineering design team.

    • Recruiter: Oxford Instruments

    Apply for this job

  • Skilled Electrical Fitter

    MBDA
    • Bolton
    • Competitive Salary & Benefits

    What?s the opportunity?   The Electrical Fitter will carry out manufacturing and test tasks within the electrical department in accordance with product certification procedures, defined workmanship  ...

    • Recruiter: MBDA

    Apply for this job

  • Electrical Manufacturing Technician

    MBDA
    • Stevenage
    • Competitive Salary & Benefits

    What?s the opportunity?   As a qualified craftsman with experience in electrical manufacturing, the Manufacturing Technician will report to a Team Leader, receiving day to day ...

    • Recruiter: MBDA

    Apply for this job

  • Consultant Engineer (Electrical Power)

    BAE Systems
    • Cumbria, Barrow-In-Furness, England
    • Negotiable

    Consultant Engineer (Electrical Power) Would you like to play a key role in providing technical direction to the design of power systems on the Successor class submarines, which will replace the current Trident-equipped Vanguard class, currently in servic

    • Recruiter: BAE Systems

    Apply for this job

  • Electrician

    The Bristol Port Company
    • City of Bristol
    • C. £31,729 per annum plus supplements, benefits and overtime

    You’re a good team worker with a strong technical capacity – so bring your talents to a new role with one of the area’s leading employers.

    • Recruiter: The Bristol Port Company

    Apply for this job

  • Supply Restoration Team Manager (HV/SAP)

    SSE
    • Oxford, Oxfordshire
    • Salary: £37,588 to £49,645 + Car (SSE8) Depending on skills and experience

    SSE is looking to recruit a Supply Restoration Team Manager to join our existing team in Oxford.

    • Recruiter: SSE

    Apply for this job

  • Electrical Technical Lead - Global Operations, Engineering & Laboratory

    Pfizer Ltd
    • Kent

    An exciting opportunity has arisen to join a dynamic team of professional engineers, supporting the development of novel drugs.

    • Recruiter: Pfizer Ltd

    Apply for this job

More jobs ▶

Subscribe

Choose the way you would like to access the latest news and developments in your field.

Subscribe to E&T