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Open Access Research

Engineering a cyanobacterium as the catalyst for the photosynthetic conversion of CO2 to 1,2-propanediol

Han Li12 and James C Liao1234*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of California, Los Angeles, CA, 90095, USA

2 The Molecular Biology Institute, University of California, Los Angeles, CA, 90095, USA

3 Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, University of California, Los Angeles, CA, 90095, USA

4 Institute of Genomics and Proteomics, University of California, Los Angeles, CA, 90095, USA

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Microbial Cell Factories 2013, 12:4  doi:10.1186/1475-2859-12-4

Published: 22 January 2013

Abstract

Background

The modern society primarily relies on petroleum and natural gas for the production of fuels and chemicals. One of the major commodity chemicals 1,2-propanediol (1,2-PDO), which has an annual production of more than 0.5 million tons in the United States, is currently produced by chemical processes from petroleum derived propylene oxide, which is energy intensive and not sustainable. In this study, we sought to achieve photosynthetic production of 1,2-PDO from CO2 using a genetically engineered cyanobacterium Synechococcus elongatus PCC 7942. Compared to the previously reported biological 1,2-PDO production processes which used sugar or glycerol as the substrates, direct chemical production from CO2 in photosynthetic organisms recycles the atmospheric CO2 and will not compete with food crops for arable land.

Results

In this study, we reported photosynthetic production of 1,2-PDO from CO2 using a genetically engineered cyanobacterium Synechococcus elongatus PCC 7942. Introduction of the genes encoding methylglyoxal synthase (mgsA), glycerol dehydrogenase (gldA), and aldehyde reductase (yqhD) resulted in the production of ~22mg/L 1,2-PDO from CO2. However, a comparable amount of the pathway intermediate acetol was also produced, especially during the stationary phase. The production of 1,2-PDO requires a robust input of reducing equivalents from cellular metabolism. To take advantage of cyanobacteria’s NADPH pool, the synthetic pathway of 1,2-PDO was engineered to be NADPH-dependent by exploiting the NADPH-specific secondary alcohol dehydrogenases which have not been reported for 1,2-PDO production previously. This optimization strategy resulted in the production of ~150mg/L 1,2-PDO and minimized the accumulation of the incomplete reduction product, acetol.

Conclusion

This work demonstrated that cyanobacteria can be engineered as a catalyst for the photosynthetic conversion of CO2 to 1,2-PDO. This work also characterized two NADPH-dependent sADHs for their catalytic capacity in 1,2-PDO formation, and suggested that they may be useful tools for renewable production of reduced chemicals in photosynthetic organisms.

Keywords:
Cyanobacteria; 1,2-propanediol; Photosynthesis; CO2 fixation; Metabolic engineering; Synthetic biology