Metabolic engineering for enhanced hydrogen production: a review

Can J Microbiol. 2013 Feb;59(2):59-78. doi: 10.1139/cjm-2012-0494. Epub 2012 Nov 26.


Hydrogen gas exhibits potential as a sustainable fuel for the future. Therefore, many attempts have been made with the aim of producing high yields of hydrogen gas through renewable biological routes. Engineering of strains to enhance the production of hydrogen gas has been an active area of research for the past 2 decades. This includes overexpression of hydrogen-producing genes (native and heterologous), knockout of competitive pathways, creation of a new productive pathway, and creation of dual systems. Interestingly, genetic mutations in 2 different strains of the same species may not yield similar results. Similarly, 2 different studies on hydrogen productivities may differ largely for the same mutation and on the same species. Consequently, here we analyzed the effect of various genetic modifications on several species, considering a wide range of published data on hydrogen biosynthesis. This article includes a comprehensive metabolic engineering analysis of hydrogen-producing organisms, namely Escherichia coli, Clostridium, and Enterobacter species, and in addition, a short discussion on thermophilic and halophilic organisms. Also, apart from single-culture utilization, dual systems of various organisms and associated developments have been discussed, which are considered potential future targets for economical hydrogen production. Additionally, an indirect contribution towards hydrogen production has been reviewed for associated species.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Clostridium / genetics
  • Clostridium / metabolism
  • Enterobacter / genetics
  • Enterobacter / metabolism
  • Escherichia coli / enzymology
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Fermentation
  • Hydrogen / metabolism*
  • Hydrogenase / metabolism
  • Metabolic Engineering*


  • Hydrogen
  • Hydrogenase