Transition metal-free reduction of activated alkenes using a living microorganism

Richard Brewster, Jack Suitor, Adam Bennett, Stephen Wallace

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Microorganisms can be programmed to perform chemical synthesis via metabolic engineering. However, despite an increasing interest in the use of de novo metabolic pathways and designer whole‐cells for small molecule synthesis, the inherent synthetic capabilities of native microorganisms remain underexplored. Herein we report the use of unmodified E. coli BL21(DE3) cells for the reduction of keto‐acrylic compounds and apply this whole‐cell biotransformation to the synthesis of aminolevulinic acid from a lignin‐derived feedstock. The reduction reaction is rapid, chemo‐ and enantioselective, occurs under mild conditions (37 ˚C, aqueous media) and requires no toxic transition metals or external reductants. This study demonstrates the remarkable promiscuity of central metabolism in bacterial cells and how these processes can be leveraged for synthetic chemistry without the need for genetic manipulation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12409-12414
Number of pages6
JournalAngewandte Chemie International Edition
Issue number36
Early online date8 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2 Sep 2019


  • biotransformation
  • biotechnology
  • green chemistry
  • reduction
  • whole cell


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