CRISPR-Cas9 tool expedites production of biofuel precursors and specialty polymers in living systems

January 26, 2016 by Sarah Nightingale, University of California - Riverside
Bright-field microscopy of Yarrowia lipolytica. Gene editing in this yeast strain will lead to new precursors for biofuels and specialty polymers. Credit: University of California, Riverside

A team led by a researcher at the University of California, Riverside has adapted the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing system for use in a yeast strain that can produce useful lipids and polymers.

The development will lead to new precursors for biofuels, specialty polymers, adhesives and fragrances.

Published recently in the journal ACS Synthetic Biology, the research involves the oleaginous (oil-producing) yeast Yarrowia lipolytica, which is known for converting sugars to lipids and hydrocarbons that are difficult to make synthetically. Until now, Y. lipolytica has been hard to manipulate at the , but the application of CRISPR-Cas9 will change that, allowing scientists to tap into its bio-manufacturing potential.

Described in 2012, CRISPR-Cas9 is a groundbreaking technique that enables scientists to make precise targeted changes in living cells. Unlike traditional gene-editing methods, it is cheap, easy to use and effective in almost any organism.

"Traditionally, researchers have focused on model organisms that are relatively easy to manipulate at the genetic level, and those working on less tractable species have had to go through long and tedious processes to create new strains. Our work with Y. lipolytica is a good example of how the CRISPR-Cas9 system is facilitating research in organisms that are biologically interesting but historically difficult to work with," said Ian Wheeldon, an assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering at UCR's Bourns College of Engineering and the study's principal investigator.

In the paper, the team adapted CRISPR-Cas9 for Y. lipolytica, showing that the system could be used to knock genes out and introduce new genes, both useful tools in bio-manufacturing.

Wheeldon said the current work was the first step in a National Science Foundation-funded project to create long chain hydrocarbons—used to make specialty polymers, adhesives, coatings and fragrances—from yeast rather than synthetically.

"Currently, these molecules are produced from non-renewable raw materials derived from petroleum in processes that are inefficient and pose safety risks, so being able to produce them from cheap raw materials in a bio-manufacturing process is very appealing," Wheeldon said.

Other researchers may use the system to create precursors for biofuels, reducing the current reliance on edible plant oils, Wheeldon said.

Explore further: Study reveals the way CRISPR/Cas9 cleaves enzymes and positions them for cutting

More information: Cory M. Schwartz et al. Synthetic RNA Polymerase III Promoters Facilitate High-Efficiency CRISPR–Cas9-Mediated Genome Editing in , ACS Synthetic Biology (2016). DOI: 10.1021/acssynbio.5b00162

Related Stories

RNA-based drugs give more control over gene editing

November 16, 2015

In just the past few years, researchers have found a way to use a naturally occurring bacterial system known as CRISPR/Cas9 to inactivate or correct specific genes in any organism. CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing activity runs continuously, ...

Study identifies, characterizes lipid accumulation pathways

December 8, 2015

With the increasing emphasis on sustainable energy sources, biofuels derived from animal or plant lipids—oils and fats—have been proposed as a promising substitute for fossil fuels. In particular, the yeast species Yarrowia ...

Recommended for you

How quinoa plants shed excess salt and thrive in saline soils

September 21, 2018

Barely heard of a couple of years ago, quinoa today is common on European supermarket shelves. The hardy plant thrives even in saline soils. Researchers from the University of Würzburg have now determined how the plant gets ...

Basking sharks can jump as high and as fast as great whites

September 20, 2018

A collaborative team of marine biologists has discovered that basking sharks, hundreds of which are found off the shores of Ireland, Cornwall, the Isle of Man and Scotland, can jump as fast and as high out of the water as ...

Decoding the structure of an RNA-based CRISPR system

September 20, 2018

Over the past several years, CRISPR-Cas9 has moved beyond the lab bench and into the public zeitgeist. This gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 holds promise for correcting defects inside individual cells and potentially healing ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

betterexists
not rated yet Jan 26, 2016
Is there a gene producing FIRE/FLAME too?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.