Background: The sustainable production of biofuels remains one of the major issues of the upcoming years. Among the number of most desirable molecules to be produced, butanol and isobutanol deserve a prominent place. They have superior liquid-fuel features in respect to ethanol. Particularly, butanol has similar properties to gasoline and thus it has the potential to be used as a substitute for gasoline in currently running engines. Clostridia are recognized as natural and good butanol producers and are employed in the industrial-scale production of solvents. Due to their complex metabolic characteristics and to the difficulty of performing genetic manipulations, in recent years the Clostridia butanol pathway was expressed in other microorganisms such as Escherichia coli and Saccharomyces cerevisiae, but in yeast the obtained results were not so promising. An alternative way for producing fusel alcohol is to exploit the degradation pathway of aminoacids released from protein hydrolysis, where proteins derive from exhausted microbial biomasses at the end of the fermentation processes.
Results: It is known that wine yeasts can, at the end of the fermentation process, accumulate fusel alcohols, and butanol is among them. Despite it was quite obvious to correlate said production with aminoacid degradation, a putative native pathway was never proposed. Starting from literature data and combining information about different organisms, here we demonstrate how glycine can be the substrate for butanol and isobutanol production, individuating at least one gene encoding for the necessary activities leading to butanol accumulation. During a kinetic of growth using glycine as substrate, butanol and isobutanol accumulate in the medium up to 92 and 58 mg/L, respectively.
Conclusions: Here for the first time we demonstrate an alternative metabolic pathway for butanol and isobutanol production in the yeast S. cerevisiae, using glycine as a substrate. Doors are now opened for a number of optimizations, also considering that starting from an aminoacid mixture as a side stream process, a fusel alcohol blend can be generated.