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A rose by any other name

Posted 02/08/2011 by KatieJ

Metabolic pathway engineering are the buzz words, or should it be the buzz term, at the 2011 annual meeting of the US Society of Industrial Microbiology in New Orleans, Louisiana. The term is being applied to every aspect of the development of renewable and new materials and alternative biofuels.

Modifying the way an organism, be it algal or a bacterium, operates to produce more of a specific substance or even a substance that it would not normally produce is today’s name of the game – knocking out metabolic pathways or adding new ones is paying dividends in the drive for the commercial production of bio-based and renewable chemicals and fuels.

As keynote speaker Sang Yup Lee, from the Korea Institute of Science & Technology (KAIST), pointed out, metabolic pathway engineering is opening the doors to new routes to the production of these materials, and may hold the key to the production of quantum dots for the next step after OLED displays: QLED displays and TV screens.

This biochemical engineering can involve every aspect of a cell from the feedstock that it takes in, through how it metabolises that feedstock to how it eliminates waste products, including the desired substance.

It is of course genetic engineering, something that is accepted in the US and many other parts of the world. But in Europe genetic engineering is still a ‘dirty word’ for the public.

The benefits of such engineering are enormous – from greater yields of biofuels to the sustainable production of chemicals that previously have only been available from fossil fuels. But will a change in the description of the approach escape the attention of those who see anything to do with the artificial altering of an organism as something to be riled against?

Is metabolic pathway engineering being used as just another description of genetic engineering that will mobilise protesters? Or will it highlight that while the public is concerned about genetically modified plants and animals, modified algae and bacteria are of little interest? And after all the public hasn’t bothered too much about the use of engineered microbes for pharmaceutical production.

Is it a rose by any other name or will it be a new thorn in the side of biofuel and chemical development

Neil Eisberg - Editor

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