Gasoline, a refined petroleum product, is a blend of hydrocarbons -- called alkanes and consisting only of hydrogen and carbon -- and additives.
Previous research has indicated metabolic engineering of Escherichia coli can produce long-chain alkanes consisting of 13-17 carbon atoms -- sufficient for producing diesel, but not gasoline. The hydrocarbons in gasoline have just 4-12 carbon atoms.
In the paper, published online in Nature, a Korean research team led by Professor Sang Yup Lee of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) reported, for the first time, a strategy for microbial gasoline production through metabolic engineering of E. coli.
Researchers engineered the fatty-acid metabolism to produce shorter fatty acid derivatives, thus biosynthesizing short-chain alkanes suitable for gasoline.
Further, the engineered E. coli strain can be modified to produce esters and alcohols by introducing different enzymes.
"It is only the beginning of the work towards sustainable production of gasoline," said Professor Sang Yup Lee. "We are currently working on increasing the titer, yield and productivity of bio-gasoline. Nonetheless, we are pleased to report, for the first time, the production of gasoline through the metabolic engineering of E. coli."