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Development of a Sustainable Route to the Important Platform Chemical 3-Hydroxypropanoic Acid Using Synthetic Biology and a Geobacillus Chassis

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Microorganisms create building blocks for chemical industry

Platform chemicals are building blocks, which can be converted into a wide variety of chemicals or materials. Biological routes that convert lignocellulosic biomass (LCB) into the required platform chemicals could provide an alternative to the fossil fuels currently used for chemicals’ manufacture.

Climate Change and Environment
Industrial Technologies

The chemical 3-hydroxypropanoic acid (3-HP) is the third most important substance to be derived from LCB according to the US Department of Energy. However, at present there is no commercial biological process available for the production of 3-HP due to the high cost of feed stock, low yields and the chemical’s toxicity. The EU-funded project GEO-HPA (Development of a sustainable route to the important platform chemical 3-hydroxypropanoic acid using synthetic biology and a geobacillus chassis) addressed these challenges by developing a bioprocess for 3-HP from LCB using the Geobacillus bacterium. Geobacillus grow at temperatures between 40-70 degrees centigrade and can ferment both hexose and pentose sugars as well as oligomers present in LCB. These high temperatures reduce the risk of contamination by other microorganisms, make the process more viable by reducing cooling costs during fermentation and confer desirable properties to the growth medium. Researchers therefore designed a bioprocess for large scale production of 3-HP from sugars using Geobacillus thermoglucosidasius (GBT) as a chassis. This was then extended to LCB as feedstocks. Results indicated that GBT is a promising thermophile capable of metabolising glucose and xylose, two major sugars in LCB. The organism showed many valuable properties with regard to 3-HP production. For example, the high cell growth and growth rate of GBT is comparable to E. coli. In addition, it does not consume or degrade 3-HP as a carbon source like some other organisms. Project partners constructed recombinant GBT strains for production of 3-HP from sugars and achieved a small titre of 3-HP (3-5 millimolar) as a proof of concept. This suggested that GBT is a potential organism for 3-HP production and synthesis of 3-HP can be raised to a higher level. GEO-HPA provided an economic and sustainable commercial route to 3-HP production. This will enhance EU competitiveness in the development of bio-based production of chemicals from renewable sources.

Keywords

Lignocellulosic biomass, platform chemicals, 3-hydroxypropanoic acid, GEO-HPA, Geobacillus

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