Microbial Production of Bisabolane, a New Terpene-Based Biofuel


Development of next-generation biofuels will require economical production of high-energy compounds that are compatible with existing vehicle engines and fuel distribution infrastructures. To this end, researchers at the DOE Joint Bioenergy Institute (JBEI) have been exploring potential fuel properties of molecules in the terpene family. Many terpene molecules possess properties similar to petroleum-derived fuel compounds, and industrial microbes such as yeast and E. coli have been previously engineered for terpene compound synthesis for pharmaceutical production. In a new study published in Nature Communications, JBEI scientists describe production of the terpene bisabolane, a molecule with fuel properties similar to D2 diesel. After identifying bisabolane as a promising biofuel, the team embarked on a series of targeted genetic modifications to terpene synthesizing E. coli and yeast strains, resulting in microbial production of the compound using simple sugars as the starting material. Unlike other biofuels such as ethanol and isobutanol, bisabolane was found to be relatively nontoxic to the microbes and thus could potentially be produced at higher yields. Efforts are currently underway to screen the fuel properties of biologically produced bisabolane and develop improved fermentation strategies that would enable scaling of production to commercial levels.


Peralta-Yahya, P. P., M. Ouellet, R. Chan, A. Mukhopadhyay, J. D. Keasling, and T. S. Lee. 2011. “Identification and Microbial Production of a Terpene-Based Advanced Biofuel,” Nature Communications 2:483. (DOI: 10.1038/ncomms1494)