Microbial production of fatty-acid-derived fuels and chemicals from plant biomass

Nature. 2010 Jan 28;463(7280):559-62. doi: 10.1038/nature08721.


Increasing energy costs and environmental concerns have emphasized the need to produce sustainable renewable fuels and chemicals. Major efforts to this end are focused on the microbial production of high-energy fuels by cost-effective 'consolidated bioprocesses'. Fatty acids are composed of long alkyl chains and represent nature's 'petroleum', being a primary metabolite used by cells for both chemical and energy storage functions. These energy-rich molecules are today isolated from plant and animal oils for a diverse set of products ranging from fuels to oleochemicals. A more scalable, controllable and economic route to this important class of chemicals would be through the microbial conversion of renewable feedstocks, such as biomass-derived carbohydrates. Here we demonstrate the engineering of Escherichia coli to produce structurally tailored fatty esters (biodiesel), fatty alcohols, and waxes directly from simple sugars. Furthermore, we show engineering of the biodiesel-producing cells to express hemicellulases, a step towards producing these compounds directly from hemicellulose, a major component of plant-derived biomass.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biofuels / microbiology*
  • Biomass*
  • Escherichia coli / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism*
  • Fatty Acids / biosynthesis*
  • Fatty Alcohols / metabolism
  • Genetic Engineering
  • Operon / genetics
  • Plants / metabolism*
  • Polysaccharides / metabolism
  • Xylans / metabolism


  • Biofuels
  • Fatty Acids
  • Fatty Alcohols
  • Polysaccharides
  • Xylans
  • hemicellulose