Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology

, Volume 86, Issue 2, pp 419-434

First online:

Biofuel production in Escherichia coli: the role of metabolic engineering and synthetic biology

  • James M. ClomburgAffiliated withDepartment of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Rice University
  • , Ramon GonzalezAffiliated withDepartment of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Rice UniversityDepartment of Bioengineering, Rice University Email author 

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The microbial production of biofuels is a promising avenue for the development of viable processes for the generation of fuels from sustainable resources. In order to become cost and energy effective, these processes must utilize organisms that can be optimized to efficiently produce candidate fuels from a variety of feedstocks. Escherichia coli has become a promising host organism for the microbial production of biofuels in part due to the ease at which this organism can be manipulated. Advancements in metabolic engineering and synthetic biology have led to the ability to efficiently engineer E. coli as a biocatalyst for the production of a wide variety of potential biofuels from several biomass constituents. This review focuses on recent efforts devoted to engineering E. coli for the production of biofuels, with emphasis on the key aspects of both the utilization of a variety of substrates as well as the synthesis of several promising biofuels. Strategies for the efficient utilization of carbohydrates, carbohydrate mixtures, and noncarbohydrate carbon sources will be discussed along with engineering efforts for the exploitation of both fermentative and nonfermentative pathways for the production of candidate biofuels such as alcohols and higher carbon biofuels derived from fatty acid and isoprenoid pathways. Continued advancements in metabolic engineering and synthetic biology will help improve not only the titers, yields, and productivities of biofuels discussed herein, but also increase the potential range of compounds that can be produced.


Synthetic biology Metabolic engineering Biofuels production Escherichia coli Biofuels