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Using Polyketide Synthases to Produce Advanced Biofuels




  • Biosynthesis of carboxylic acids and lactones for biofuel production


  • Provides biofuel alternatives to ethanol
  • The polyketide synthases can be modified to tailor-make a wide variety of lactones and carboxylic acids
  • Controlled placement of ester linkages may result in enhanced combustion properties
  • Esters and lactones are more hydrophobic than their corresponding alcohols, offering compatibility with the current fuel infrastructure
  • Esters and lactones are valuable lubrication additives, and may improve fuel economy
  • Compatible with multiple host organisms and feedstocks


In order to cost-effectively replace petroleum-based transportation fuel with sustainable and environmentally friendly alternatives, a diversity of advanced biofuels, feedstocks, and methods for producing them must be studied and optimized.  To this end, Jay Keasling, Leonard Katz, and colleagues at the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) are using synthetic biology to engineer polyketide synthases (PKSs) that can be used to produce carboxylic acids and lactones for biofuel production. (Carboxylic acids can easily be converted to an ester biofuel.) Other laboratories have modified the same type of enzymes for the manufacture of pharmaceutical and agricultural products but the JBEI team is the first to design PKSs to synthesize biofuels or their immediate precursors.

Some of the longer-chain esters that can be produced by the JBEI PKSs could be used in biodiesel blends. The shorter chain esters and the lactones could be used as petroleum additives or in non-hydrophilic, advanced biofuel blends that are compatible with the current fuel infrastructure.  Because the JBEI process allows controlled engineering, ester linkages can be placed so that combustion properties of the resulting biofuel are enhanced.

DNA that encodes the engineered enzymes can be introduced into a variety of host organisms capable of fermenting sugars derived from the deconstruction of biomass.  The JBEI PKSs can produce the carboxylic acids or lactones in cells or in a cell extract where all the necessary starting materials are present. 

JBEI is seeking a licensee and collaborative research partner interested in funding development of this technology over a three-year period.  JBEI is a San Francisco Bay Area scientific partnership led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and including the Sandia National Laboratories (Sandia), the University of California (UC) campuses of Berkeley and Davis, the Carnegie Institution for Science, and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).



  • Published Patent Application PCT/US2009/042132 available at Available for licensing and collaborative research.




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