Yeast/biofuel advance at UTexas/Austin
Beyond biofuels, the new yeast strain could be used in biochemical production to produce oleochemicals, chemicals traditionally derived from plant and animal fats and petroleum, which are used to make a variety of household products.
Hal Alper, associate professor in the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering, and his team have engineered a special type of yeast cell, Yarrowia lipolytica, and significantly enhanced its ability to convert simple sugars into oils and fats, known as lipids, that can then be used in place of petroleum-derived products. Alper's discovery aligns with the U.S. Department of Energy's efforts to develop renewable and cost-competitive biofuels from nonfood biomass materials.
"Our re-engineered strain serves as a stepping stone toward sustainable and renewable production of fuels such as biodiesel," Alper said. "Moreover, this work contributes to the overall goal of reaching energy independence."
Previously, the Alper team successfully combined genetically engineered yeast cells with ordinary table sugar to produce what Alper described as "a renewable version of sweet crude," the premium form of petroleum. Building upon this approach, the team used a combination of evolutionary engineering strategies to create the new, mutant strain of Yarrowia that produces 1.6 times as many lipids as their previous strain in a shorter time, reaching levels of 40 grams per liter, a concentration that could make yeast cells a viable platform in the creation of biofuels. The strain's high lipid yield makes it one of the most efficient organisms for turning sugar into lipids. In addition, the resulting cells produced these lipids at a rate that was more than 2.5 times as fast as the previous strain.