New Computer Model Harnesses Ancient Biology for Climate Change Solution
(LanzaTech) Acetogens are one of the oldest living organisms, with the acetogenic CO2 fixing pathway considered to be one of the first biochemical pathways on Earth. Today, these organisms still play a major role in the global carbon cycle, accounting for around 20% of the fixed carbon on the planet. With a more detailed understanding of the metabolism of acetogens, more carbon could be fixed from existing waste streams into everyday products that would otherwise come from fossil resources.
The computer-based model developed by researchers at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) at the University of Queensland in Australia is now able to predict the optimal conditions for acetogenic carbon fixation, specifically for the species Clostridium autoethanogenum (C. auto), used by gas fermentation company LanzaTech. The results were released in the article “Maintenance of ATP homeostasis triggers metabolic shifts in gas-fermenting acetogens” published as the cover article in Cell Systems this month.
LanzaTech’s acetogen was originally discovered in the droppings of a rabbit species, from there the acetgoen was isolated and brought to the lab where it was further developed. Today the LanzaTech acetogens ferment waste industrial gases from process industries, such as the steel or refining sector to produce ethanol and other chemicals. In this way, waste gases can be captured, and biologically converted into chemicals for plastic production! The company has proven the scalability and commercial viability of the technology. In addition, they have perfected a genetic tool kit to modify the organism to allow it to make many different products from these waste gas streams. However, with the aid of this new computer model, the company is able to accurately and predictively design microbes. This greatly reduces the time from concept to production, ensuring that gas fermenting organisms will become a viable solution for the production of a broad spectrum of valuable fuels and chemicals from waste and sustainable feedstocks.
“The use of low-cost, abundant waste feedstocks through LanzaTech’s technology has the potential to transform the way we produce chemicals and fuels, particularly if we use models to design and engineer better microorganisms” said Dr Esteban Marcellin, who led the project at AIBN. “This acceleration makes the development of genuine bio-based production far more attractive with a third to half of the USD 3 trillion chemical market being accessible through LanzaTech’s technology.”
Professor Alan Rowan, Director of AIBN, said industrial biotech was one of AIBN’s key pillars of research “Industrial biotech is a paradigm shift and will be become a leading future industry replacing oil as a feedstock.”
“With operating data from fermentations happening at steel mills around the world, the team from the University of Queensland have made the most accurate model system published to date,” said Dr. Sean Simpson, Founder and Chief Science Officer at LanzaTech. “This opens the door to establishing acetogens as true platform biological catalysts that can convert a variety of carbon containing inputs into new products. Ancient biology for a very modern need!” READ MORE