CORDIS - EU research results

Production of a second phase of hydrophobic aromatics with solvent-tolerant Pseudomonas

Project description

Bacteria that love extremes could boost production of solvents

Microbes are emerging as promising allies in our transition to greener energy, producing many valuable chemicals with the help of synthetic biology and metabolic engineering. However, ramping up production is challenged by the toxicity of the produced chemicals to ordinary production microbes. Pseudomonas may not have this issue. It is an extremophile, an organism that can survive extreme environments. The EU-funded PROSPER project will engineer this robust organism in such a way that it will provide a virtually endless product sink of hydrophobic solvents such as styrene and benzene using a novel approach that has never been demonstrated.


Replacement of fossil chemicals with biological counterparts has been widely accepted as a vital pursuit to increase the sustainability of our chemical and material industries. Synthetic biology and metabolic engineering enable us to produce a plethora of chemicals with microbes, but the majority of these never make it past the proof-of-principle stage. This is especially the case for drop-in bulk aromatics like styrene or benzene. The main reason for this is that such products are too toxic to ordinary production microbes.

In PROSPER I aim to overcome this hurdle and demonstrate the efficient microbial production of hydrophobic aromatic chemicals using solvent-tolerant Pseudomonas. I will engineer this unique extremophile to break the solubility barrier of these chemicals, forming a second phase of product. This second phase provides a virtually endless product sink and it enables extremely simple downstream recovery.

The bio-based production of a second phase of such chemicals has thus far never been shown. I believe that this relates to a fundamental problem in biotechnology: production tolerance, i.e. tolerance of the producing organism to the produced product, rather than to an externally added chemical (as it is usually studied). In PROSPER I intend to generate deep mechanistic insights into the processes governing both types of tolerance and to leverage these insights to open up a new field of biotechnological production of hydrophobic compounds. To achieve this, I will develop new methods to analyze intracellular solvent concentrations, build a Pseudomonas chassis with enhanced production tolerance to hydrophobic solvents, and enable production of solvents like styrene, ethylbenzene, and even benzene.

I am in a unique position to achieve this goal, with over 15 years of experience in the engineering of Pseudomonas as a workhorse in biotechnology, the study of solvent-tolerance, and the development and application of synthetic biology tools and metho

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 999 485,00
52428 Julich

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Nordrhein-Westfalen Köln Düren
Activity type
Research Organisations
Total cost
€ 1 999 485,00

Beneficiaries (1)