Written by Hannah Edstrom
Hey guys! The next paper we’ll be going over is a Nature Communications article, “Two-dimensional isobutyl acetate production pathways to improve carbon yield,” from Tashiro, Desai, & Atsumi (2015). You can find it here.
A couple points. First, this is a Nature paper. Nature, like Science, is a great source of high-quality journal articles written in a succinct (usually <10 page) format. To get published in either journal means that you are working on some high-impact research that may very well be a breakthrough in your field.
Second, what’s the big deal with improving carbon yield and isobutyl acetate (IBA)? This will be another biotechnology paper, one in which the authors are trying to manipulate a microbe (in this case, E. coli) into producing IBA. The traditional cell-as-bioreactor paradigm is: feed the cell glucose, harvest out your product. But as any chemist knows, a chemical reaction has a theoretical yield and an actual, experimental yield. It is no different in biology. The theoretical maximum carbon yield (TMCY) can be calculated based off of how much glucose you give a cell and how much of it can be converted to your product. Then there is the actual amount produced, after you’ve done all the genetic and environmental manipulations.
In this paper, the authors manage to increase TMCY quite a bit, by changing the carbon source (environment) and some enzymatic pathways (genetics). That has a big impact for bioengineers everywhere working from similar pathways to the one used here – even if they’re not trying to get IBA.
Then of course, there’s the IBA itself. Isobutyl acetate is a product of alcohol fermentation, contributing to a fruity fragrance in wines. It’s also present in things like raspberries and can be used as a fragrance or oil. In the lab, IBA can have more practical applications as well, for example, as a solvent for chemical reactions.