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Striking the right balance: JBEI researchers counteract biofuel toxicity in microbes
Date:5/11/2011

is and be used in today's infrastructures and engines, unlike ethanol. Biofuels made from branched carbon-chain compounds, such as geranyl acetate and farnesyl hexanoate, would also be superior to today's biodiesel, which is made from esters of linear fatty acids. Cyclic alkenes, such as limonene and pinene, could serve as precursors to jet fuel. Although biosynthetic pathways to the production of these carbon compounds in microbes have been identified, product toxicity to microbes is a common problem in strain engineering for biofuels and other biotechnology applications.

"In order for microbial biofuel production to be cost effective, yields must exceed native microbial tolerance levels, necessitating the development of stress-tolerant microbe strains," Mukhopadhyay says. "It is crucial that we improve tolerance in parallel with the development of metabolic pathways for the production of next-generation biofuels."

Microbes employ various strategies for addressing cell toxicity but perhaps the most effective are efflux pumps, proteins in the cytoplasmic membrane of cells whose function is to transport toxic substances out of the cell. This is done actively, using proton motive force. However, to date very few of these have been characterized for efficacy against biofuel like compounds.

"Sequenced bacterial genomes include many efflux pumps but remain a largely unexplored resource for use in engineering fuel tolerance," Mukhopadhyay says. "We took a systematic approach to screen a library of primarily uncharacterized heterologous pumps for engineering biofuel tolerant host strains. We were then able to demonstrate that expression of a heterologous pump can increase the yield of a biofuel in the production strain."

Since all known solvent-resistant efflux pumps in Gram-negative bacteria fall into the hydrophobe/amphiphile efflux (HAE1) family, Mukhopadhyay and her colleagues constructed a database of all HAE1 pumps from sequence
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Contact: Lynn Yarris
lcyarris@lbl.gov
510-486-5375
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert  

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