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Biosynthesis of 2-hydroxyisobutyric acid (2-HIBA) from renewable carbon

Thore Rohwerder* and Roland H Müller

Author Affiliations

Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, Department Environmental Microbiology, Permoserstr. 15, 04318 Leipzig, Germany

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Microbial Cell Factories 2010, 9:13  doi:10.1186/1475-2859-9-13

Published: 25 February 2010


Nowadays a growing demand for green chemicals and cleantech solutions is motivating the industry to strive for biobased building blocks. We have identified the tertiary carbon atom-containing 2-hydroxyisobutyric acid (2-HIBA) as an interesting building block for polymer synthesis. Starting from this carboxylic acid, practically all compounds possessing the isobutane structure are accessible by simple chemical conversions, e. g. the commodity methacrylic acid as well as isobutylene glycol and oxide. During recent years, biotechnological routes to 2-HIBA acid have been proposed and significant progress in elucidating the underlying biochemistry has been made. Besides biohydrolysis and biooxidation, now a bioisomerization reaction can be employed, converting the common metabolite 3-hydroxybutyric acid to 2-HIBA by a novel cobalamin-dependent CoA-carbonyl mutase. The latter reaction has recently been discovered in the course of elucidating the degradation pathway of the groundwater pollutant methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) in the new bacterial species Aquincola tertiaricarbonis. This discovery opens the ground for developing a completely biotechnological process for producing 2-HIBA. The mutase enzyme has to be active in a suitable biological system producing 3-hydroxybutyryl-CoA, which is the precursor of the well-known bacterial bioplastic polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB). This connection to the PHB metabolism is a great advantage as its underlying biochemistry and physiology is well understood and can easily be adopted towards producing 2-HIBA. This review highlights the potential of these discoveries for a large-scale 2-HIBA biosynthesis from renewable carbon, replacing conventional chemistry as synthesis route and petrochemicals as carbon source.