Thursday, July 21, 2011

Opportunities and Challenges for a New Foundation for Biobased Chemicals.

CBiRC is developing the tools, components and materials needed to transform carbohydrate feedstocks into bio-based chemicals. Core knowhow and technologies include bioengineering of fatty acid and polyketide biochemistry in microorganisms, as well as an innovative and complimentary portfolio of developments in chemical catalysis.

By combining biocatalysis and chemical catalysis CBiRC creates new knowhow and powerful technologies that have the potential to nurture a sustainable bio-based chemical industry. CBiRC is making great progress towards creating a new foundation for bio-based chemicals.

CBiRC believes the existing petrochemical supply chain can be transformed with key foundational intermediates that deliver an array of drop-in chemistry or similar functionality to existing fossil-carbon-based chemicals.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Experts in Fatty Acid/Polyketide Metabolism and Microbial Engineering

Unique Expertise in Fatty Acid/Polyketide Metabolism and Microbial Engineering:
CBiRC has assembled a world-class team of scientists that are well known for their work on fatty acid/ polyketide metabolism and microbial metabolic engineering. The team is focused on the enzymes involved in Claisen condensation-based carbon-chain extension and chain termination with the aim of directing the process of fatty acid assembly in microbes.

The enzymes and proteins of interest include:
  • 3-ketoacyl-ACP Synthase,
  • Acetoacetyl-CoA
  • Acetyl-CoA/Propionyl-CoA Synthetase
  • Acyl-CoA Carboxylases
  • Methylketone Synthase
  • Thioesterases
  • Biocatalysts of the Acetyl-CoA Condensation
  • Fatty Acid Elongase
  • Biotin.

Overall Aim of the Center:
The overall aim is to engineer microbes in order to direct glucose utilization to the fatty acid or polyketide biosynthetic pathways with a goal of enhancing microbial production through targeted engineering. Combining biocatalysis with chemical catalysis opens the door to the fatty acid or polyketide-based platform chemicals (examples include carboxylic acids, ring structures and bifunctional molecules) at the heart of CBiRC’s vision.

Faculty involved in Enzyme Engineering:
Project Name: 3-ketoacyl-ACP Synthase, Acetoacetyl-CoA: Acetyl-CoA/Propionyl-CoA Synthetase; Acyl-CoA Carboxylases; Methylketone Synthase/Thioesterase; Thioesterases; Biocatalysts of the Acetyl-CoA Condensation; Fatty Acid Elongase; Biotin.
  1. Basil J. Nikolau Biochemistry, Biophysics & Molecular Biology Iowa State University
  2. Joseph P. Noel Jack H. Skirball Center for Chemical Biology & Proteomics Salk Institute for Biological Studies
  3. Peter J. Reilly Chemical & Biological Engineering Iowa State University
  4. Thomas A. Bobik Biochemistry, Biophysics & Molecular Biology Iowa State University
  5. David J. Oliver Genetics, Development & Cell Biology Iowa State University
  6. Eran Pichersky Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology University of Michigan

Faculty involved in Microbial Metabolic Engineering:
Project Name: Bioinformatics; Flux Analysis; Omics Experiments; Strain Characterization and Optimization
  1. Nancy A. Da Silva Chemical Engineering & Materials Science University of CaliforniaIrvine
  2. Julie A. Dickerson Electrical & Computer Engineering Iowa State University
  3. Ramon Gonzalez Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering W. M. Rice University
  4. Laura R. Jarboe Chemical & Biological Engineering Iowa State University
  5. Ka-Yiu San Bioengineering W. M. Rice University
  6. Jacqueline V. Shanks Chemical & Biological Engineering Iowa State University
  7. Eve S. Wurtele  Genetics, Development & Cell Biology Iowa State University
  8. Suzanne B. Sandmeyer Biological Chemistry University of CaliforniaIrvine

Friday, November 19, 2010


You recognize these products, but do you know where they come from?

Polymers, Paints, Coatings, Resins, Industrial Chemicals, Packaging, Bottles, Containers, Inks, Dyes, Adhesives, Sealants, Construction Chemicals, Surfactants, Cleaning Agents, Specialty Chemicals, Food additives, Flavorings, Fragrances, Cosmetics….

The answer is....

Most of the world’s fuels and carbon-based chemicals are sourced from fossil carbon, with a relatively minor contribution (10%) from biorenewable sources.
The future needs to be more sustainable using BIO-BASED materials. For example:

BioPolymers, BioPaints, BioCoatings, BioResins, Industrial BioChemicals, BioPackaging, BioBottles, BioContainers, BioInks, BioDyes, BioAdhesives, BioSealants, Construction BioChemicals, BioSurfactants, Cleaning BioAgents, Specialty BioChemicals, Food Bioadditives, BioFlavorings, BioFragrances, BioCosmetics….

To learn more about this topic visit:
Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Educators at The Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC), an NSF-funded Engineering Research Center headquartered at Iowa State University, recently announced the foundation of a new Biorenewable Chemicals Graduate Minor. The minor in Biorenewable Chemicals allows students from a variety of allied disciplines to understand the opportunities for developing biorenewable chemicals via a combination of biocatalytic and chemical catalysis steps. In addition, students in the minor gain explicit entrepreneurial internship experience, a background in the general issues related to production and processing of biorenewable resources, and exposure to the economic and environmental realities of the chemical industry.

The minor consists of a 14-credit hour sequence: 8 hours of graduate coursework in Fundamentals of Biorenewable Resources and Technology (3 cr), Biological and Chemical Catalysis (3 cr), The Evolving Chemical Industry (1 cr), and a Biorenewable Chemicals Entrepreneurial Internship (1 cr), and 6 credits of coursework selected from a list of courses reflecting CBiRC’s three technical thrust areas: New Biocatalysts for Pathway Engineering (Thrust 1), Microbial Metabolic Engineering (Thrust 2), and Chemical Catalyst Design (Thrust 3). Additional training for students in the graduate minor occurs through annual CBiRC center-wide meetings. Students present posters and learn about each other’s research findings, thereby gaining a better appreciation for both chemical and biological catalysis routes for producing biorenewable chemicals.

The new Biorenewable Chemicals Graduate Minor is designed to complement and enhance a broader more extensive educational mission, including: (1) Educating pre-college teachers; (2) Educating pre-college students; (3) Providing hands-on research experiences to undergraduates; and (4) Providing novel graduate curricula for students in CBiRC-allied fields. CBiRC is leveraging existing multidisciplinary efforts in biorenewables education at Iowa State University to accomplish its mission. The CBiRC education program includes individual and interactive components for pre-college teachers and students as well as undergraduate and graduate students. To maximize the educational impact created by the center, the high level of activity in the biorenewables area at Iowa State will be leveraged for new high-impact educational programs.

To learn more about this topic visit: Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC)

Monday, August 30, 2010


Researchers at The Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC), an NSF-funded Engineering Research Center headquartered at Iowa State University, recently showed that medium chain length free fatty acids can be produced by E.coli using sugars as the carbon source. The research uses codon-optimized eukaryotic and prokaryotic enzyme sources expressed in the microbial systems. The projects reported 35-40% of the theoretical yields with 2.7g/L being attained, comparing very favorably with recent literature reports. Further improvements are underway with strain optimization, media optimization and fine-tuning of the operating conditions. Similar studies are underway in yeast systems using similar enzyme sources along with additional optimization and characterization. Simultaneously, in parallel research projects the toxicity of such short chain fatty acids is being evaluated. This research combines flux map analysis and newly developed bioinformatic "network component analysis" tools for systemwide analysis and allows insights into the compensatory mechanisms being perturbed in such biological systems.

These studies are enabling CBiRC to drive the construction of its metabolic engineering design engine and hence make new strains for high level fatty acid and polyketide synthesis in microbes. The projects bring together faculty from Iowa State University as well as the University of Califorina - Irvine, Rice University, the Salk Institute and the University of Michigan.

Medium chain fatty acids are important as a stepping stone to creating even shorter fatty acids in the future. These medium and shorter chain fatty acids can form a foundation for making α-olefins using other chemical catalysis methods under development in CBiRC. Such α-olefins are part of the larger family of olefins or alkenes with a chemical formula CxH2x. Polymerization of alkenes yields polymers that are known in a general way as polyolefins. The α-olefins are distinguished by having a double bond at the primary or α-position, which enhances the reactivity of the compound and makes it useful for a number of applications. Olefins are reactive intermediates used to manufacture products used in plastics, lubricants, surfactants, agricultural chemicals, coatings and corrosion inhibitors. Such olefins are synthesized today from petrochemical sources and can have high industrial value. The research reported above begins to set-out a new path to making biorenewable or bio-based olefins.

To learn more about this topic visit: Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC)


The new Biorenewables Research Laboratory (BRL) at Iowa State University is the university's hub for biorenewables research. Completed in 2010, the four-floor, 70,000-square-foot facility is the first phase of a planned three-wing complex, bringing together three primary research organizations under one roof: the NSF Engineering Research Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC), the Bioeconomy Institute, and the Biobased Industry Center. The building was funded through a $32 million legislative appropriation, includes chemistry and microbiology labs for research, two large teaching laboratories, administrative and faculty offices and graduate student office areas. It also features a two-story "high bay" facility for larger, pilot-scale research projects in thermochemical biomass conversion. The university plans second phase expansion of the building once sufficient funding has been secured.

The building incorporates cost-saving, eco-friendly design elements that should qualify it for LEED gold certification. During construction 97 percent of construction waste was recycled with only 3 percent of the debris directed to landfills. Building materials were specified to contain the maximum amount of pre- and post-consumer recycled content. Over 30 percent of the total building materials consist of recycled content. Because building materials can change many hands and travel great distances, a Chain of Custody form was completed for virtually every material that made its way to this project. This ensured that much of the materials came from within a 500 mile radius and were collected in a sustainable manner. Wood used in the building frame is documented from the forest, to the lumber mill, to our supplier, to our site. The same was done for metals, concrete and other materials.

The orientation of the building captures southern exposure and the resulting daylight. Incredibly, 92 percent of the spaces within the building enjoy direct exterior views. In addition to natural lighting, the building uses recyclable building materials such as the doors and cabinetry made from bamboo. The building is also equipped with a rainwater collection and storage system, and a portion of the structure has an energy-saving vegetated roof. Overall water consumption is reduced by 75 percent because of these measures. The lighting systems throughout the building utilize occupancy sensors and compact fluorescent lighting (CFLs) to make full use of natural light and to drastically reduce our need for electricity. The offices and public spaces are air conditioned by a system called a chilled beam. Chilled beams use chilled water in a series of coils that then have ducted air pushed through the coils. It uses less energy to run chilled water than conditioned air and saves money with smaller air duct work required. This is the first time this system has been used in the state of Iowa. The surrounding landscape is a combination of native prairie plantings and adaptive vegetation, which once established, will not require watering. The site also incorporates switch grasses that are examples of biomass utilized in research programs.

To learn more about this topic visit:  Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC)


Researchers at The Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC), an NSF-funded Engineering Research Center headquartered at Iowa State University, are studying multiple enzymes involved in the fatty acid and polyketide pathway, including: 3-ketoacyl-ACP Synthases, Acetoacetyl-CoA Synthetases, Acetyl-CoA/Propionyl-CoA Synthetases, Acyl-CoA Carboxylases, Methylketone Synthases, Thioesterases, Biocatalysts of the Acetyl-CoA Condensation, Fatty Acid Elongases, Biotin (cofactor). As part of this work, CBiRC is using data-mining techniques to find amino acid sequences and tertiary structures of members of the seven enzyme groups that make up the fatty acid/polyketide synthesis cycle and include them in a major database. The new constantly updated ThYme (Thioester-active enzYmes) database contains primary and tertiary structures, classified into families and clans that are different from those currently found in the literature or in other databases. Researchers are arranging these members into families unrelated to each other by sequence similarity. The families are grouped into clans related by tertiary structure and mechanism. Furthermore, the families are divided into subfamilies by differences in their sequences. This allows an intimate understanding how enzymes produced by different organisms having the same substrate specificities are related to each other. Using this database along with biochemical studies of enzyme kinetics and specificities allows CBiRC to visualize ways of selecting and even engineering novel optimized enzymes.

Collectively these studies are enabling CBiRC to drive the incorporation of novel enzymes into its metabolic engineering design engine and hence make new strains synthesizing novel fatty acid and polyketides in microbes. The projects bring together faculty from Iowa State University as well as the Salk Institute and the University of Michigan.

The fatty acid and polyketide pathway enzymes are important because they are the biological catalysts that synthesize the building blocks for novel bio-based chemicals. Thus CBiRC envisions that these enzymes, when appropriately engineered, will create a foundation for delivering an array of novel molecules having longer and shorter chains, branched and ring structures as well as more functionalized molecules. These biocatalysis efforts are focused on the fatty acid or polyketide biosynthetic pathway which will be combined with chemical catalysis to create an array of novel chemical intermediates (e.g., olefins, diols, dienes, branched and ring structures, ethers and esters). These chemical intermediates will be used in a new chemical industry to make an array of bio-based materials ranging from polymers to surfactants, food additives to cosmetics, adhesives to paints, coatings, dyes, sealants and specialty chemicals. CBiRC envisions multiple applications of these new bio-based materials, resulting in the displacement of today's petrochemical sources of such high-value materials.

To learn more about this topic visit:  Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC)