Future fuels are based on baker’s yeast

​Perfumes, flavours and biofuels from regular baker’s yeast. Now Chalmers makes further breakthrough in the search for more sustainable industrial chemicals.
Fatty acids form the basis of many industrial chemicals and are included in most plastics, flavours and perfumes, solvents and fuels. While fossil oils, animal fats or plant oils are traditionally used in the chemical production of those types of products, we have, since a few years back, experienced the transition towards more sustainable alternative such as using cell factories, e.g. the regular baker’s yeast, to obtain the necessary fatty acids. However, a common bottleneck arising from these alternatives remains the insufficient production of fatty acids to meet levels of the petrochemical industry.

A problem to which Chalmers researchers Paulo Teixeira and Raphael Ferreira in Jens Nielsen’s team at the Department of Biology and Biotechnology are now one step closer to solve.

– We have found a way to remove and modify the genes in the yeast cells to start producing large amounts of fatty acids, says Paulo Teixeira.
– It was amazing when I saw the first graphs about the amount of fatty acids that we now can bring out. I barely thought it was true! says Raphael Ferreira.

While other researchers often invest in adding genes to increase fatty acid production, Paulo Teixeira and Raphael Ferreira have instead chosen to remove certain genes, thus reprogramming the lipid metabolism of the yeast. Paulo Teixeira describes how it works.
– Imagine that lipid metabolism is like roads and crossroads and the fatty acids are cars. A car can drive along different roads and come to different places. But by closing certain roads, as we do when we remove certain genes, we force the cars to only drive along the roads we leave open and thus all the cars – the fatty acids – end up in the same place, he says.

Now as a confirmation on their pioneering research, their paper is published in the prestigious scientific journal “Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America” – PNAS.

– I was super happy when our paper was accepted! says Paulo Teixeira.
– Our research proves that you do not necessarily need to add genes. But by modifying and deleting certain genes you can achieve amazing results.

– The great thing about this is that these new yeast cells that we created can now be used by other people together with other successful strategies to build even better yeast cells to produce fatty acids and one day reach those industrial levels we all want, says Raphael Ferreira.

Read more in the scientific article in PNAS: Redirection of lipid flux toward phospholipids in yeast increases fatty acid turnover and secretion

Text: Helena Österling af Wåhlberg
Photo: Martina Butorac

Published: Mon 22 Jan 2018. Modified: Fri 26 Jan 2018