Genetic engineering accelerates the impact of biotechnology on chemical production

Technical Insights Advances in Biotechnology for the Manufacture of Chemicals, Part 1San Jose, Calif. June 17, 2003 Biotechnology advances are producing results in the production of commodity chemicals, such as ethanol, and specialty chemicals, such as pharmaceuticals and nutrients.

Genetic manipulation, for example, can often raise the efficiency of a biotechnological process while reducing the costs and environmental impact.

"Superior strains of microorganisms have been recently bred to provide higher productivity of a desired enzyme, greater thermal stability, or a speedier reaction time," says Technical Insights Analyst Michael Valenti.

It will certainly take some time to make products ranging from plastics to antidepressants using enzymatic instead of industrial synthetic methods, but biotransformation makes it a possibility.

Researchers at Wacker-Chemie GmbH in Germany have developed a fermentation process that avoids multi-step chemical synthesis and produces semi-synthetic L-amino acids. This process is more economical than traditional methods since it uses glucose, a relatively low-cost raw material.

The replacement of chemical synthesis by fermentation processes highlights the attractive potential of genetically modified organisms that can produce bioactive organo-fluorine compounds by fermentation.

This movement from chemical to biosynthetic processes is mainly because the latter can eliminate environmental concerns over the disposal of chemical processing wastes and increase product yield.

Solid-substrate fermentation to produce enzymes by reusing agricultural materials could represent another promising advancement due to cost reductions.

Large-scale commercial production of polymers made from lactic acid obtained by fermenting sugars from renewable sources could mean that other acids derived by the same process will become important building blocks for the chemical industry.


Contact: Julia Paulson
Technical Insights

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