Innovative Chemicals and Materials from Bacterial Aromatic Catabolic Pathways

Christopher W. Johnson, Davinia Salvachúa, Nicholas A. Rorrer, Brenna A. Black, Derek R. Vardon, Peter C. St. John, Nicholas S. Cleveland, Graham Dominick, Joshua R. Elmore, Nicholas Grundl, Payal Khanna, Chelsea R. Martinez, William E. Michener, Darren J. Peterson, Kelsey J. Ramirez, Priyanka Singh, Todd A. VanderWall, A. Nolan Wilson, Xiunan Yi, Mary J. BiddyYannick J. Bomble, Adam M. Guss, Gregg T. Beckham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

136 Scopus Citations


To drive innovation in chemical and material applications beyond what has been afforded by the mature petrochemical industry, new molecules that possess diverse chemical functionality are needed. One source of such molecules lies in the varied metabolic pathways that soil microbes utilize to catabolize aromatic compounds generated during plant decomposition. Here, we have engineered Pseudomonas putida KT2440 to convert these aromatic compounds to 15 catabolic intermediates that exhibit substantial chemical diversity. Bioreactor cultivations, analytical methods, and bench-scale separations were developed to enable production (up to 58 g/L), detection, and purification of each target molecule. We further engineered strains for production of a subset of these molecules from glucose, achieving a 41% molar yield of muconic acid. Finally, we produce materials from three compounds to illustrate the potential for realizing performance-advantaged properties relative to petroleum-derived analogs. In the last century, chemicals and materials derived from the byproducts of petroleum production have largely displaced natural products and enabled myriad new applications. Today, fuels, chemicals, and materials derived from plant biomass have the potential to enable innovation and mitigate negative environmental impacts of the petrochemical industry. To achieve this, nature's ability to generate unique molecules with great selectivity could be leveraged to develop new chemicals and materials that would be difficult to access from petroleum and could represent new building blocks for a bio-based materials economy. Here we describe the production of molecules derived from bacterial aromatic catabolic pathways and demonstrate their use in the production of materials with superior properties relative to their petroleum-derived analogs. Intermediates of bacterial aromatic catabolism contain chemical functionality that could enable them to serve as precursors to environmentally compatible materials with similar or superior properties relative to petroleum-derived incumbents. Here, Pseudomonas putida was engineered to convert aromatic molecules and glucose into 16 of these metabolic intermediates including muconic acid, which was produced at a 41% yield from glucose. Several of these molecules were then polymerized to generate performance-advantaged materials.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1523-1537
Number of pages15
Issue number6
StatePublished - 19 Jun 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Elsevier Inc.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-2A00-74328


  • aromatic catabolism
  • biopolymer
  • bioprocess development
  • functional replacement
  • muconic acid


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