This Review on biofuels provides an excellent overview of current and future approaches that use microorganisms to produce biofuels. Biofuels, as replacement of fossil fuels, address both climate change and diminishing reserves of oil. However, issues such as the use of food crops for biofuel production and toxin and greenhouse gas emmissions as well as costs and technical problems that affect today's biofuels. James Liao and colleagues outline innovative strategies that harness the diversity and versatility of microorganisms to produce biofuels.
Both climate change and the diminishing reserve of fossil fuels are pressing problems, which will have severe consequences for the global population. We need practical solutions now - sustainable biofuels present one promising approach. Recent technical advances have made engineering microorganisms much easier and efficient, which raises hope for developing microorganisms that can produce biofuel from recalcitrant plants with high yields.
This Review outlines three key issues for microbial biofuel production: the substrates that are used, the metabolic pathways involved and the yield and efficiency of production. Engineering microorganisms that can optimally deal with these issues will make biofuel production more sustainable and affordable. We can produce biofuels today but the cost, not only financially but also in resources, poses problems, in particular for developing countries.
Since the publication of this Review, new enzymes, metabolic pathways and microorganisms that can be used for biofuel production have been identified. For example, a new microbial enzyme was discovered that enables production of toluene, an important petrochemical, from biomass. Another example is the engineering of algae to produce double the amount of lipids, which can be used for biofuel production, without a growth defect.
The research that we publish can identify problems and provide solutions that are relevant for the grand challenges. As we have a broad audience, we hopefully will raise awareness and reach people who will make a difference.
EiC of Nature Reviews Microbiology