Researchers from University of Wisconsin-Madison developed a potential initiator to convert plant-derived aromatic compounds into potential polyester precursors
Lignin is a class of complex organic polymers known as aromatic heteropolymer that is found in plant biomass. Heterogenous mixtures of low molecular weight aromatic compounds is produced when the polymerization of lignin is disturbed though biological or chemical processes. Microbes capable of metabolizing aromatics derived from lignin consists of new pathways that shuttle these heterogeneous compositions into less number of common intermediates before opening the aromatic ring. Now, a team of researchers from Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center of the University of Wisconsin-Madison focused on using plants to produce fuels and other chemicals.
In the U.S. Department of Energy funded research, the team studied sugars in the fibrous cellulose that are the major constituents of plants' cell walls. To obtain these sugars, the team began with isolation of lignin that offers useful cellulose as a remnant. The team developed a strategy for using Novosphingobium aromaticivorans to convert lignin into fuel. The bacterium was isolated from the soil abundant with aromatic compounds after contamination by petroleum products and played a major role in the research. N. aromaticivorans can digest majority of lignin and convert it into smaller aromatic hydrocarbons. During the digestion process, aromatic compounds are converted into 2-pyrone-4,6-dicarboxylic acid (PDC). The team isolated three genes from their microbe and modified the intermediate PDC into the end of the line. Such mutation in the bacteria can help it act as a funnel for lignin.
According to the researchers, PDC can be an attractive plastic alternative as it does not leak hormone-mimicking compounds into water. However, the process of manufacturing PDC has currently several challenges. According to the researchers, the tailored variation on N. aromaticivorans can convert around 59% of useful compounds in lignin into PDC. The team is focused on further enhancing the efficiency of the process to produce PDC at a substantial rate and with considerable yield for large scale use. The research was published in the journal Green Chemistry on February 27, 2019.
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