The bacteria turns paper waste into a valuable chemical

Itaconic acid, or methyl succinic acid, is a valuable chemical that is used in polymer

industry, wastewater treatment andion exchange chromatography. It can be turned into a chemical that burns better than gasoline. The industrial production of itaconic acid involves the fungi Aspergillus terreus.

The problem is that they eat relativelypure sugars. Their use makes the process too expensive. In their work, ORNL scientists used lignin, waste from biorefineries and paper mills, to grow the bacterium Pseudomonas putida for the potentially cheaper production of itaconic acid.

Scientists have genetically engineeredbacteria to produce itaconic acid, creating a dynamic control that separates the growth and production phases of microbes to improve acid efficiency and yield. Photo: NREL

Biologists have created a dynamic control method,which separates the growth and production phases of bacteria using a special biosensor to increase the efficiency and acid yield. It triggers the metabolic pathway for the production of itaconic acid only after the bacteria have consumed all the nitrogen that feeds their growth.

“Technology will bring additional profitbiorefineries by converting lignin into a valuable chemical, says ORNL's Adam Gass. - One strain has reached almost 90% of the theoretical yield at the production stage and can still be optimized. The new method is applicable to other wastes as well. "

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