Non-fermentative pathways for synthesis of branched-chain higher alcohols as biofuels

Nature. 2008 Jan 3;451(7174):86-9. doi: 10.1038/nature06450.


Global energy and environmental problems have stimulated increased efforts towards synthesizing biofuels from renewable resources. Compared to the traditional biofuel, ethanol, higher alcohols offer advantages as gasoline substitutes because of their higher energy density and lower hygroscopicity. In addition, branched-chain alcohols have higher octane numbers compared with their straight-chain counterparts. However, these alcohols cannot be synthesized economically using native organisms. Here we present a metabolic engineering approach using Escherichia coli to produce higher alcohols including isobutanol, 1-butanol, 2-methyl-1-butanol, 3-methyl-1-butanol and 2-phenylethanol from glucose, a renewable carbon source. This strategy uses the host's highly active amino acid biosynthetic pathway and diverts its 2-keto acid intermediates for alcohol synthesis. In particular, we have achieved high-yield, high-specificity production of isobutanol from glucose. The strategy enables the exploration of biofuels beyond those naturally accumulated to high quantities in microbial fermentation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bioelectric Energy Sources*
  • Butanols / chemistry*
  • Butanols / metabolism*
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism*
  • Fermentation
  • Genetic Engineering
  • Glucose / metabolism*


  • Butanols
  • isobutyl alcohol
  • Glucose