Sustained Photosynthetic Conversion of CO2 to Ethylene in Recombinant Cyanobacterium Synechocystis 6803

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Ethylene is the most widely produced petrochemical feedstock globally. It is currently produced exclusively from fossil fuels, and its production is the largest CO2-emitting process in the chemical industry. In this study, we report on a photobiological process for sustained production of ethylene from CO2. The efe gene encoding an ethylene-forming enzyme from Pseudomonas syringae pv. Phaseolicola was previously expressed in cyanobacterial strains, but was not stable. We modified the gene sequence to enhance its stability, and expressed it in Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803, leading to continuous ethylene production. The same ethylene production rate was sustained across four successive sub-cultures without apparent loss of ethylene-forming ability. Up to 5.5% of the fixed carbon was directed to ethylene synthesis, surpassing the published carbon-partition rate into the TCA cycle. Nitrogen- and phosphorus-enriched seawater can support both growth and ethylene production. Factors limiting ethylene production, including efe expression levels, light intensity and nutrient status, were identified and alleviated, resulting in a peak production rate of 5650 μL L-1 h-1 (7125 μg L-1 h-1, 252 μmol L-1 h-1, or 171 mg L-1 day-1), which is higher than that reported for other algae biofuels and chemicals. This study suggests that Synechocystis, expressing the modified efe gene, has potential to be an efficient biological catalyst for the uptake and conversion of CO2 to ethylene.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)8998-9006
Number of pages9
JournalEnergy and Environmental Science
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2012

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-2700-53018


  • alternative
  • bio-ethylene
  • biofuels
  • carbon-neutral
  • CO2
  • ethanol
  • ethylene


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