Author: Martin Walpot
Viennese researchers from the Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology (acib) and BOKU Vienna found a way to use the harmful greenhouse gas CO2 as a raw material for the production of industrial products such as bioplastics, absorbents or important chemicals with the help of an optimized yeast, thus binding it into durable materials. The technology, which is still on a laboratory scale, is not only climate-neutral, but could also make a contribution to the fight against climate change in the future.
Carbon is the basic building block of life on our planet. We consume it as food in the form of carbohydrates, for example, use fossil fuels and produce many everyday materials such as plastics from carbon. Despite its many benefits, carbon’s extensive use since the Industrial Revolution is fueling one of the biggest problems of the Anthropocene – climate change.
Therefore, in response to ongoing climate change and the increasing need for renewable resources that are independent of agricultural feedstocks, technologies such as recycling CO2 as a feedstock for various materials are becoming increasingly interesting.
Plastics and chemicals from CO2
A few years ago, a research group from BOKU Vienna and acib GmbH found a CO2-producing heterotrophic yeast called Komagataella phaffii. The scientists were able to modify the yeast to build its biomass entirely from CO2. Now the research group took another significant step forward: They were able to produce starting materials for industrial products such as bioplastics, polymers or absorbents from CO2 by introducing additional genes from lactic acid bacteria and molds into the modified yeast. This groundbreaking work was recently published in the scientific journal “The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)”.
First successes on a laboratory scale
By applying synthetic biology methods, the metabolic pathways for the production of itaconic acid and lactic acid could be introduced into the modified yeast K. phaffii and both products could be produced from CO2. Using 13C isotope labeling, the researchers were also able to demonstrate that the desired products were produced exclusively from CO2. With a yield of nearly 2 grams of itaconic acid per liter, initial successes have already been celebrated. Yet, until industrial maturity has been reached, the Viennese team needs to further optimize the strains and processes. However, on a laboratory scale, the group from BOKU and acib have already been able to show that greenhouse gases can indeed be used as a raw material for important chemicals – and as well that the work has tremendous potential in combating climate change.
Note: This article is based on the following publication: https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.2211827119