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Biochemistry. 2011 Jun 21;50(24):5404-18. doi: 10.1021/bi200416g. Epub 2011 May 26.

Constructing de novo biosynthetic pathways for chemical synthesis inside living cells.

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  • 1Department of Chemistry, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720-1460, USA.


Living organisms have evolved a vast array of catalytic functions that make them ideally suited for the production of medicinally and industrially relevant small-molecule targets. Indeed, native metabolic pathways in microbial hosts have long been exploited and optimized for the scalable production of both fine and commodity chemicals. Our increasing capacity for DNA sequencing and synthesis has revealed the molecular basis for the biosynthesis of a variety of complex and useful metabolites and allows the de novo construction of novel metabolic pathways for the production of new and exotic molecular targets in genetically tractable microbes. However, the development of commercially viable processes for these engineered pathways is currently limited by our ability to quickly identify or engineer enzymes with the correct reaction and substrate selectivity as well as the speed by which metabolic bottlenecks can be determined and corrected. Efforts to understand the relationship among sequence, structure, and function in the basic biochemical sciences can advance these goals for synthetic biology applications while also serving as an experimental platform for elucidating the in vivo specificity and function of enzymes and reconstituting complex biochemical traits for study in a living model organism. Furthermore, the continuing discovery of natural mechanisms for the regulation of metabolic pathways has revealed new principles for the design of high-flux pathways with minimized metabolic burden and has inspired the development of new tools and approaches to engineering synthetic pathways in microbial hosts for chemical production.

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