Engineering the Biosynthesis of Styrene in Yeast

EPA Grant Number: SU833519
Title: Engineering the Biosynthesis of Styrene in Yeast
Investigators: Prata, Joseph , Domach, Michael M. , Washburn, Newell
Current Investigators: Washburn, Newell , Chandra, Divyam , Clark, Darin , Domach, Michael M.
Institution: Carnegie Mellon University
EPA Project Officer: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia
Phase: I
Project Period: August 31, 2007 through July 31, 2008
Project Amount: $10,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2007) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Materials & Chemicals , P3 Awards , Sustainability


Replacing petroleum-derived commodity chemicals with those produced from sustainable resources requires a platform of molecules having a broad range of chemical properties. However, the top 12 sugar- or syngas-derived chemical building blocks recently identified by the Department of Energy are all aliphatic molecules. Aromatic compounds are critical components of the plastics and resins industry, and a robust biological source is needed to complement the development of feedstocks based on renewable resources. The goal of this research program is to engineer yeast capable of efficiently producing the resin styrene, which currently is produced from petroleum at billions of pounds per year. Because of their compartmentalized internal structure, yeast are well suited for multi-step biosynthesis of non-natural chemicals. Genetic manipulation of the shikimate pathway will be used to overproduce the amino acid phenylalanine, which can then be converted to styrene by incorporating the genes for the enzymes phenylalanine ammonia lysase and phenolic acid decarboxylase. Other important aromatic commodity chemicals, such as p-hydroxystyrene or phenol, could be produced biosynthetically using this basic approach, making progress in styrene biosynthesis more generally applicable. Optimization of yield and titer will be performed using metabolic pathway analyses, genetic modifications, and bioreactor design and will be benchmarked against current methods of commodity-chemical biosynthesis. Ultimately, development of biorefineries that produce a broad range of aromatics would provide a clean, sustainable source of chemicals currently missing from our portfolio of sustainable commodity chemicals. Multi-disciplinary undergraduate research and curriculum development are to be used to draw together molecular biologists, chemists, and engineers to help address the challenge of aromatics bioproduction. The results of this research program will be used to provide a lab component to a course being offered in spring 2008 on chemical biocatalysis to educate science and engineering students on sustainable sources of chemicals.

Supplemental Keywords:

biomass, commodity chemical, genetic engineering, green chemistry, polymer science and engineering, renewable resource, renewable feedstock,

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report