Metabolic engineering in chemolithoautotrophic hosts for the production of fuels and chemicals

Metab Eng. 2015 Jul;30:105-120. doi: 10.1016/j.ymben.2015.04.008. Epub 2015 May 8.


The ability of autotrophic organisms to fix CO2 presents an opportunity to utilize this 'greenhouse gas' as an inexpensive substrate for biochemical production. Unlike conventional heterotrophic microorganisms that consume carbohydrates and amino acids, prokaryotic chemolithoautotrophs have evolved the capacity to utilize reduced chemical compounds to fix CO2 and drive metabolic processes. The use of chemolithoautotrophic hosts as production platforms has been renewed by the prospect of metabolically engineered commodity chemicals and fuels. Efforts such as the ARPA-E electrofuels program highlight both the potential and obstacles that chemolithoautotrophic biosynthetic platforms provide. This review surveys the numerous advances that have been made in chemolithoautotrophic metabolic engineering with a focus on hydrogen oxidizing bacteria such as the model chemolithoautotrophic organism (Ralstonia), the purple photosynthetic bacteria (Rhodobacter), and anaerobic acetogens. Two alternative strategies of microbial chassis development are considered: (1) introducing or enhancing autotrophic capabilities (carbon fixation, hydrogen utilization) in model heterotrophic organisms, or (2) improving tools for pathway engineering (transformation methods, promoters, vectors etc.) in native autotrophic organisms. Unique characteristics of autotrophic growth as they relate to bioreactor design and process development are also discussed in the context of challenges and opportunities for genetic manipulation of organisms as production platforms.

Keywords: Acetogen; Biochemicals; Biofuels; CO(2) fixation; Electrosynthesis; Genetic transformation; Hydrogenase.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Biofuels*
  • Metabolic Engineering / methods*
  • Ralstonia* / genetics
  • Ralstonia* / metabolism
  • Rhodobacter* / genetics
  • Rhodobacter* / metabolism


  • Biofuels