Using Metagenomics to Improve Biofuel Production


Chemical toxins are commonly released as microbes deconstruct biomass. These toxins limit the efficiency of microbes used in subsequent steps of biofuel production. A new strategy, that makes microbes resistant to these toxins, has been developed by George Church and colleagues at Harvard Medical School. Highly diverse populations of soil microbes (metagenomes) were challenged by known toxins and the surviving, more resistant microbes were used as sources to identify anti-toxin genes. Gene systems conferring resistance to the toxins syringaldehyde and 2-furoic acid were detected, and their modes of action elucidated. Using synthetic biology techniques, these genes were used to confer toxin resistance to sensitive microbes. This strategy will be used to find additional, natural microbial defenses against toxins, and the isolated genes will be used to make microbes used for biomass processing more resistant to these toxins.


Morten O.A. Sommer, George M. Church and Gautam Dantas, “A functional metagenomic approach for expanding the synthetic biology toolbox for biomass conversion” Molecular Systems Biology 6; published on April 13, 2010, DOI: 10.1038/msb.2010.16.