New Biocatalysts to Produce Novel Fatty Acids Having Broad Commercial Applications

Achievement date: 
2014
Outcome/accomplishment: 

Researchers at the Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC), an NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) headquartered at Iowa State University, have discovered novel Ketoacyl-ACP Synthase III (KASIII) biocatalysts that can utilize unusual substrates resulting in production of novel bi-functional fatty acids.
Impact/benefits: 

The bi-functional fatty acids are novel in that they are not produced naturally in large quantities. They have applications in manufacturing polymers, surfactants/detergents, and lubricants, thereby replacing currently used petroleum-derived chemicals as feedstock for the chemical industry. This KASIII technology can be further modified to produce additional bi-functional fatty acids, which can have chemical-industry applications and also contribute toward future CBiRC research and development.

Explanation/Background: 

Most organisms typically synthesize straight-chain fatty acids; however, a few organisms produce unusual fatty acids that carry very useful chemical functionalities. Steps to commercialize this promising technology are underway. Specifically, to take commercial advantage of these chemical properties, a newly established CbiRC-derived startup company (OmegaChea Biorenewables , LLC) will strive to use this bio-engineered microbial platform to enable the replacement of existing petroleum-based molecules with unique, bio-based, bi-functional molecules (see figure).