Using Yeast for Biomass


By Rubina Obaid

A set of three novel genetic tools are produced to facilitate the increasing expression of target genes for improved bioproducts such as organic acids from the yeast I. Orientalis.

Increased demand for yeast-related products forced the production and optimization of industrial yeast biomass. Yeast biomass has evolved as a valuable product that could lead to a more efficient biochemical production for developing more economically competitive biofuel and oleochemicals, derived from plant and animal fats and petroleum.  According to the latest research and study that has been published in Metabolic Engineering Journal, it highlighted the three-pronged method and the significance in the field of sustainable chemical production. The research was conducted under the supervision of Mingfeng Cao, a senior research scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (ChBE).

A triad of innovative tools has been developed by the researchers for developing low-PH-tolerant yeast and to expand the portfolio of yeast products in order to address the changing needs of the ethanol market. Building upon genetically engineered yeast Mingfeng Cao along with his team worked in ChBE Professor Huimin Zhao’s lab at the Center of Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation(CABBI), a U.S. Department of Energy-funded Bioenergy Research Center (BRC). CABBI Postdoctoral Researcher Zia Fatma also in Zhao’s lab worked on the project as the coauthor of the research study.

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Exploring various methods of producing valuable products using renewable biomass such as yeast to have more efficient and environment-friendly bioenergy alternative and other chemicals as bi-products to keep improving the biomass sector, using yeast as a key product for driving the progress. The main idea behind is to strive for less dependence on non-renewable fossil fuels and also to discover innovative techniques for the development of valuable products. Producing economically competitive products involve the process of metabolic engineering that is editing cells’ genetic blueprint to produce numerous chemical substances.

Previously, conventional yeast was designed by the researcher’s Saccharomyces cerevisiae a production host, that brought significant improvement and enhanced concentration values, began to align with improved industrial fuel processes. The objective behind the study was to discover and prove the high performance of non-conventional yeast due to the conduciveness to genetic manipulation and making it a primary candidate for metabolic engineering. The focus of the study is mainly on yeast strain which is recognized as having the capability to grow in low PH environments and due to which having extreme resistance towards acidity, I. Orientalis is known as a powerful organic acid producer. Due to the shortage of genetic manipulation practical usage of I. Orientalis to produce chemicals has not been much explored to date. Researchers of CABBI created three main tools to bridge the gap, and initially found a genetic tool that includes plasmids, DNA molecules which are used for genetic manipulation and reproduction. For editing an organism’s genome plasmids must be able to replicate precisely.


In addition to that researcher, the team identified that it is possible to use an independently replicating DNA sequence ARS from S. Cerevisiae to stabilize plasmid replication. The ARS is augmented due to its constraint of functionality with a centromere (CEN) portion of a DNA used for stabilizing the division of the cell. For improved functionality of an organism for chemical production, it is considered important to precisely adjust the genetic expression which directly reflects the behavior of promoters and terminators. The third innovative tool is an efficient and fast Vivo, a DNA assembly technique that builds a biochemical pathway. The process of reaction and action which takes place inside the cell and makes the chemical product economically viable and high yielding.  Ultimately, xylose utilizes the pathway which is actually designed for S. cerevisiae as the researchers used in vivo DNA assembly technique to introduce synthetic pathway and xylose is used as a sole carbon source by I. Orientalis.

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