Microdiesel: Escherichia coli engineered for fuel production

Microbiology (Reading). 2006 Sep;152(Pt 9):2529-2536. doi: 10.1099/mic.0.29028-0.


Biodiesel is an alternative energy source and a substitute for petroleum-based diesel fuel. It is produced from renewable biomass by transesterification of triacylglycerols from plant oils, yielding monoalkyl esters of long-chain fatty acids with short-chain alcohols such as fatty acid methyl esters and fatty acid ethyl esters (FAEEs). Despite numerous environmental benefits, a broader use of biodiesel is hampered by the extensive acreage required for sufficient production of oilseed crops. Therefore, processes are urgently needed to enable biodiesel production from more readily available bulk plant materials like sugars or cellulose. Toward this goal, the authors established biosynthesis of biodiesel-adequate FAEEs, referred to as Microdiesel, in metabolically engineered Escherichia coli. This was achieved by heterologous expression in E. coli of the Zymomonas mobilis pyruvate decarboxylase and alcohol dehydrogenase and the unspecific acyltransferase from Acinetobacter baylyi strain ADP1. By this approach, ethanol formation was combined with subsequent esterification of the ethanol with the acyl moieties of coenzyme A thioesters of fatty acids if the cells were cultivated under aerobic conditions in the presence of glucose and oleic acid. Ethyl oleate was the major constituent of these FAEEs, with minor amounts of ethyl palmitate and ethyl palmitoleate. FAEE concentrations of 1.28 g l(-1) and a FAEE content of the cells of 26 % of the cellular dry mass were achieved by fed-batch fermentation using renewable carbon sources. This novel approach might pave the way for industrial production of biodiesel equivalents from renewable resources by employing engineered micro-organisms, enabling a broader use of biodiesel-like fuels in the future.

MeSH terms

  • Alcohols / chemistry
  • Bioelectric Energy Sources
  • Biomass
  • Bioreactors
  • Biotechnology / methods
  • Escherichia coli / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism*
  • Esterification
  • Esters / chemistry
  • Fatty Acids / chemistry
  • Fermentation
  • Gasoline*
  • Genetic Engineering / methods*
  • Plant Oils / chemistry
  • Recombination, Genetic
  • Triglycerides / chemistry


  • Alcohols
  • Esters
  • Fatty Acids
  • Gasoline
  • Plant Oils
  • Triglycerides