In a review article in the December 3, 2010, issue of Science, DOE Joint Bioenergy Institute director Jay Keasling discusses advances in metabolic engineering and outlines current efforts to develop economical production of biofuel compounds by microbes. Keasling points to recent improvements in DNA sequencing, bioinformatics, and systems biology approaches as key elements enabling recent breakthroughs in microbial production of high value products such as pharmaceuticals. As petroleum prices continue to rise, engineering microbes to synthesize next generation biofuels compatible with existing engines and infrastructure has become more feasible economically. However, more work is needed to provide low cost starting materials from cellulosic biomass, improve genetic tools that allow introduction of metabolic pathways and control elements into microbial genomes, and develop a broader range of host microbes that can produce tailored biofuel compounds and withstand stresses associated with industrial fuel production. Given the rapid pace of recent progress in these areas, Keasling considers the prospects for economical microbial production of biofuels from renewable resources to be very strong.
Reference: Keasling, J.D. 2010. “Manufacturing Molecules Through Metabolic Engineering,” Science 330:1355-1358.
Contact: Joseph Graber, SC-23.2, (301) 903-1239
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