The use of genetically modified microorganisms is transforming the modern chemical industry. Using modern synthetic biology techniques, multi-step biosynthetic pathways can be genetically encoded into a living cell and used to produce small molecules of industrial value directly from sustainable feedstocks. This stands in stark contrast to traditional chemical synthesis methods that utilize non-renewable petrochemical feedstocks, generate unacceptable quantities of greenhouse gas and contribute significantly to global climate change.
In my talk I will outline our efforts to design a strain of E. coli to synthesise adipic acid, one of the most prolific small molecules used in the modern chemical industry for the synthesis of nylon-6,6. The biotransformation combines newly-discovered enzymes in a single biosynthetic pathway to generate adipic acid from lignin-derived guaiacol, a natural waste material that is widely considered to be one of the most untapped sources of carbon on Earth.