Researchers at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, Singapore, led by Sudhakar Jonnalagadda, have provided another step toward replacing petrochemicals with renewable resources in the manufacture of synthetic fibers and plastics. The team has genetically modified Escherichia coli bacteria to produce muconic acid from glucose. Muconic acid is a commercially important raw material used in pharmaceuticals, functional resins, and agrochemicals, and is also a precursor of adipic acid, used to manufacture nylon.
Jonnalagadda says bacteria do not naturally produce the required substances in significant quantities, so the trick is to persuade these bacteria to become mini manufacturing plants for chemicals required by industry. The A*STAR team inserted three genes into E. coli to establish the metabolic pathway that produces muconic acid.
The challenge was to cause the bacteria to divert more glucose toward the desired products. The team had to control the combined activity of foreign and native genes to prevent the accumulation of metabolic intermediaries as well as optimize the efficiency of muconic acid production. Computer simulation was used to study the metabolism of the genetically engineered bacteria, and for deciding on the required genetic changes.
The team is now looking at additional ways to improve the efficiency of muconic acid production