Revisiting metabolic engineering strategies for microbial synthesis of oleochemicals

Metab Eng. 2020 Mar;58:35-46. doi: 10.1016/j.ymben.2019.04.009. Epub 2019 Apr 22.


Microbial production of oleochemicals from renewable feedstocks remains an attractive route to produce high-energy density, liquid transportation fuels and high-value chemical products. Metabolic engineering strategies have been applied to demonstrate production of a wide range of oleochemicals, including free fatty acids, fatty alcohols, esters, olefins, alkanes, ketones, and polyesters in both bacteria and yeast. The majority of these demonstrations synthesized products containing long-chain fatty acids. These successes motivated additional effort to produce analogous molecules comprised of medium-chain fatty acids, molecules that are less common in natural oils and therefore of higher commercial value. Substantial progress has been made towards producing a subset of these chemicals, but significant work remains for most. The other primary challenge to producing oleochemicals in microbes is improving the performance, in terms of yield, rate, and titer, of biocatalysts such that economic large-scale processes are feasible. Common metabolic engineering strategies include blocking pathways that compete with synthesis of oleochemical building blocks and/or consume products, pulling flux through pathways by removing regulatory signals, pushing flux into biosynthesis by overexpressing rate-limiting enzymes, and engineering cells to tolerate the presence of oleochemical products. In this review, we describe the basic fundamentals of oleochemical synthesis and summarize advances since 2013 towards improving performance of heterotrophic microbial cell factories.

Keywords: Beta-oxidation; Biodiesel; Enzyme engineering; Escherichia coli; Fatty acid; Metabolic engineering; Oleochemical; Saccharomyces cerevisiae; Thioesterase; Yarrowia lipolytica.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Biofuels*
  • Escherichia coli* / genetics
  • Escherichia coli* / metabolism
  • Metabolic Engineering*
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae* / genetics
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae* / metabolism
  • Yarrowia* / genetics
  • Yarrowia* / metabolism


  • Biofuels