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Research Highlights

November 2013

Green Isoprene Closer to Reality

Predictive model a step toward using bacteria as a renewable fuel source

Bacillus subtilis
A new transcriptomics-based model that accurately predicts how much isoprene the bacterium Bacillus subtilis will produce represents a step toward using bacteria as a clean, renewable fuel source. Enlarge Image.

Results: With an eye toward maximizing isoprene production in bacteria, scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Washington State University sought to understand isoprene regulation in Bacillus subtilis, a bacterium typically found in soil that naturally produces more isoprene than other microbes. Potentially, industrial quantities of isoprene, a volatile liquid currently derived from oil used for aviation fuel and industrial applications, could be derived from bacteria. Like plant and animal cells, bacteria produce isoprene in small amounts to serve important signaling and structural roles. The researchers' result was a new, transcriptomics-based model that accurately predicts how much isoprene B. subtilis will produce when stressed or nourished.

Why It Matters: This model marks a step toward understanding how environmental changes affect gene expression and, in turn, isoprene production by the bacterium. This fundamental insight into isoprene regulation in bacteria is advancing synthetic biology approaches to engineer microbes that produce isoprene, as well as other high-value metabolites.

Methods: The team treated B. subtilis with 30 different chemical stressors and nutrients that alter isoprene production then analyzed the expression of more than 4100 genes. Transcriptomics data showed that of the 4100 genes, 213 genes influenced, or regulated, isoprene production.

With these 213 genes, the team built a statistical model that accurately predicts isoprene production levels in B. subtilis under different conditions, indicating that transcriptomics measurements alone can provide the necessary information to understand what cellular states are conducive to making isoprene.

What's Next? Researchers will use this knowledge to identify the pathways that contribute to higher or lower levels of isoprene and potentially manipulate these pathways to produce high isoprene producing strains of bacteria.


Sponsors: Support for this work was provided by Washington State University and the Washington State STAR researcher program, as well as by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research (BER) through the PNNL Foundational Scientific Focus Area. This work is part of the EMSL Research Campaign, "Making Isoprene from Biomass Material Using Bacillus Species." EMSL is a BER-supported national scientific user facility located at PNNL.

User Facility: EMSL 

Research Team: Becky M. Hess, Junfeng Xue, and Birgitte K. Ahring, Bioproducts, Sciences and Engineering Laboratory, WSU Tri-Cities; Bryan Linggi, Lye Meng Markillie, Ronald C. Taylor, and H. Steven Wiley, PNNL.

Research Area: Biological Systems Science

Reference: Hess BM, J Xue, LM Markillie, RC Taylor, HS Wiley, BK Ahring, and B Linggi. 2013. "Coregulation of Terpenoid Pathway Genes and Prediction of Isoprene Production in Bacillus subtilis Using Transcriptomics." PLoS ONE 8(6):e66104. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0066104

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