Bioenergy and Biofuels

Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology

, Volume 96, Issue 1, pp 283-297

First online:

Studies on the production of branched-chain alcohols in engineered Ralstonia eutropha

  • Jingnan LuAffiliated withDepartment of Chemistry, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • , Christopher J. BrighamAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • , Claudia S. GaiAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • , Anthony J. SinskeyAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyDivision of Health Sciences and Technology, Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyEngineering Systems Division, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Email author 

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Wild-type Ralstonia eutropha H16 produces polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) as an intracellular carbon storage material during nutrient stress in the presence of excess carbon. In this study, the excess carbon was redirected in engineered strains from PHB storage to the production of isobutanol and 3-methyl-1-butanol (branched-chain higher alcohols). These branched-chain higher alcohols can directly substitute for fossil-based fuels and be employed within the current infrastructure. Various mutant strains of R. eutropha with isobutyraldehyde dehydrogenase activity, in combination with the overexpression of plasmid-borne, native branched-chain amino acid biosynthesis pathway genes and the overexpression of heterologous ketoisovalerate decarboxylase gene, were employed for the biosynthesis of isobutanol and 3-methyl-1-butanol. Production of these branched-chain alcohols was initiated during nitrogen or phosphorus limitation in the engineered R. eutropha. One mutant strain not only produced over 180 mg/L branched-chain alcohols in flask culture, but also was significantly more tolerant of isobutanol toxicity than wild-type R. eutropha. After the elimination of genes encoding three potential carbon sinks (ilvE, bkdAB, and aceE), the production titer improved to 270 mg/L isobutanol and 40 mg/L 3-methyl-1-butanol. Semicontinuous flask cultivation was utilized to minimize the toxicity caused by isobutanol while supplying cells with sufficient nutrients. Under this semicontinuous flask cultivation, the R. eutropha mutant grew and produced more than 14 g/L branched-chain alcohols over the duration of 50 days. These results demonstrate that R. eutropha carbon flux can be redirected from PHB to branched-chain alcohols and that engineered R. eutropha can be cultivated over prolonged periods of time for product biosynthesis.


Ralstonia eutropha Biofuel Branched-chain alcohol Isobutanol 3-Methyl-1-butanol Branched-chain amino acid