Phenol is an important commodity chemical because of its role as the precursor molecule for many widely used chemicals. Currently, phenol is produced from non-renewable fossil fuels. Given the rapidly depleting supplies of such fuels, an alternative source of phenol is eagerly sought.
At first glance, “phenol production in bacteria” appears to be a paradoxical term, given the toxicity of phenol to microorganisms. A challenge, however, is what drives human endeavor and achievement, as exemplified by the latest research from Prof. Sang Yup Lee’s group at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. In their paper published in Biotechnology Journal, Prof. Lee’s group use synthetic regulatory RNA technology to specifically knockdown genes in Escherichia coli, which in turn led to the increased production of tyrosine, the immediate precursor of phenol. Then, they introduced an enzyme to further convert tyrosine to phenol. The engineered strain had a final phenol titer and productivity of 3.79 g/L and 0.18 g/L/h, respectively, which is the highest titer achieved by microbial fermentation to date. Read the article online to see how Prof. Lee’s group were able to “coax” E. coli into producing phenol.
Source: Kim, B. et al. Metabolic engineering of Escherichia coli for the production of phenol from glucose. Biotechnol. J. 2013.
Related: Biotechnology Journal‘s special issue on “Metabolic Modeling and Simulation“, edited by Prof. Diethard Mattanovich and Prof. Vassily Hatzimanikatis