Synthetic Biology for the Production of Biobased Molecules

Posted in: biobased

How does synthetic biology technology lead to the production of novel biobased chemicals?

The ShikiFactory100 project aims to produce a collection of over 100 high-value compounds from the shikimate pathway, a metabolic pathway widely used by organisms in nature (e.g. bacteria, fungi and plants) to synthesise the aromatic amino acids (AAAs) phenylalanine (Phe), tryptophan (Trp) and tyrosine (Tyr). These AAAs are important precursors for the production of cell metabolites and other intermediates, which serve as branch points for the production of many interesting and valuable compounds.

To learn more about what is meant by cell metabolism, amino acids and the shikimate pathway click here.

In industry, many compounds derived from the shikimate pathway are used in food, pharmaceutical and cosmetic applications. They may be extracted directly from the organisms in which they are made (i.e. biomass extraction), but this tends to be costly due to low concentrations of target molecules typically present in natural feedstocks. Chemical synthesis on the other hand, is a more efficient and cost-effective method of manufacturing these compounds, however it is often associated with undesirable by-products and the use of non-renewable, oil-derived feedstocks.

The microbial production of complex chemicals offers an alternative to extraction and chemical synthesis. It involves the use of host organisms (also known as cell factories) to produce target molecules of bio-based origin. In nature, organisms may be able to produce a limited selection of target compounds from established biosynthetic pathways. However, through the intelligent redesign of metabolic pathways and cell chassis, microbes can become equipped to manufacture a wide range of possible chemicals for use in various applications. The ShikiFactory100 project aims to apply these same principles to the shikimate pathway, using S. cerevisiae and E. coli as host organisms to manufacture a collection of over 100 high-value compounds.

The redesign of organisms and their metabolic pathways can be explained by synthetic biology, a multidisciplinary area of research that applies principles of engineering and computing to biology, for the creation of novel biological systems that do not exist in the natural world. The ShikiFactory100 project will employ synthetic biology to generate novel pathways for the production of many interesting and valuable compounds. In order to understand how synthetic biology will be used in the ShikiFactory100 project, it is useful to gain an understanding into the background of this subject area.

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This article was written by ​Sophie Mason, Consultant at NNFCC.

For more information about the ShikiFactory100 project, click here, or visit the project's website here.

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