Synthetic biology and biomass conversion: a match made in heaven?

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review


To move our economy onto a sustainable basis, it is essential that we find a replacement for fossil carbon as a source of liquid fuels and chemical industry feedstocks. Lignocellulosic biomass, available in enormous quantities, is the only feasible replacement. Many microorganisms are capable of rapid and efficient degradation of biomass, employing a battery of specialized enzymes, but do not produce useful products. Attempts to transfer biomass-degrading capability to industrially useful organisms by heterologous expression of one or a few biomass-degrading enzymes have met with limited success. It seems probable that an effective biomass-degradation system requires the synergistic action of a large number of enzymes, the individual and collective actions of which are poorly understood. By offering the ability to combine any number of transgenes in a modular, combinatorial way, synthetic biology offers a new approach to elucidating the synergistic action of combinations of biomass-degrading enzymes in vivo and may ultimately lead to a transferable biomass-degradation system. Also, synthetic biology offers the potential for assembly of novel product-formation pathways, as well as mechanisms for increased solvent tolerance. Thus, synthetic biology may finally lead to cheap and effective processes for conversion of biomass to useful products.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S547-S558
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of the Royal Society, Interface
Issue numberS4
Publication statusPublished - 6 Aug 2009


  • synthetic biology
  • BioBricks
  • biomass
  • cellulose
  • ethanol
  • biofuels


Dive into the research topics of 'Synthetic biology and biomass conversion: a match made in heaven?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this