Photo credit: KAIST

Bio-map charts production routes for industrial chemicals

Monday 14 Jan 19

Metabolic engineering can limit the use of fossil fuels

  • As metabolic engineering has become increasing powerful in addressing limited fossil resources, climate change, and other environmental issues, the number of microbially produced chemicals using biomass as a carbon source has increased substantially.
  • Sustainable production of industrial chemicals and materials is being explored with micro-organisms as cell factories and renewable non-food biomass as raw materials as alternatives to petroleum.
  • The engineering of these microorganisms has increasingly become more efficient and effective with the help of metabolic engineering – a practice of engineering using the metabolism of living organisms to produce a desired metabolite.
Researchers now present a very detailed map on metabolic engineering routes for the production of a wide range of sustainable chemicals. This map will ease the construction of engineered microorganisms that can produce bio-chemicals. The research is published in Nature Catalysis.

A team of scientists has now completed a metabolic map that charts all available strategies and pathways of chemical reactions that lead to the production of various industrial bio-based chemicals.

The team is led by Sang Yup Lee, Distinguished Professor at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and Scientific Director at The Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability.

Sang Yup Lee has produced high-quality metabolic engineering and systems engineering research for decades and has now made the hallmark chemicals map after seven years of studies. The map has been published in a scientific review article in Nature Catalysis.

Wide range of applications

The team presented a very detailed analysis on metabolic engineering for the production of a wide range of industrial chemicals, fuels, and materials. Surveying the current trends in the bio-based production of chemicals in industrial biotechnology, the team thoroughly examined the current status of industrial chemicals produced using biological and/or chemical reactions.

“The metabolic map presents those chemicals that can be most efficiently driven from a particular metabolic node. Also, it presents combined biological and chemical strategies for the production of a particular chemical from renewable resources. Thus, having this comprehensive map will allow researchers to think of their own production strategies,” says Sang Yup Lee.

Sang Yup Lee is serving as Scientific Director for The New Bioactive Compound Section at The Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability.

This section is working on engineering the bacterium actinomycetes bacteria for the production of new antibiotics and other natural compounds of medical importance. Some of the strategies from the map have already been employed in the Section’s daily work, Sang Yup Lee explains.

List of companies producing bio-chemicals commercially

In order to evaluate the current state at which metabolically engineered microorganisms can produce a large portfolio of industrial chemicals, the team conducted an extensive review of the literature and mapped them out on a poster. This resulting poster, termed the “bio-based chemicals map”, presents synthetic pathways for industrial chemicals, which consist of biological and/or chemical reactions.

“We are so excited that this review and poster will expand further discussion on the production of important chemicals through engineered micro-organisms and also combined biological and chemical means in a more sustainable manner,” he explains.

"This comprehensive map will allow researchers to think of their own production strategies"
Sang Yup Lee, Scientific Director at DTU Biosustain

The authors have also compiled a list of chemicals that have successfully been produced using microorganisms and a list of the corresponding companies producing them commercially.

For further information, Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at KAIST (, Tel: +82-42-350-3930). Read KAIST's press release here.


Nature Catalysis (review Article) volume 2, pages18–33 (2019): "A comprehensive metabolic map for production of bio-based chemicals", Sang Yup Lee, Hyun Uk Kim, Tong Un Chae, Jae Sung Cho, Je Woong Kim, Jae Ho Shin, Dong In Kim, Yoo-Sung Ko, Woo Dae Jang & Yu-Sin Jang:

Bio-based chemicals production through biological and chemical routes

Industrial chemicals and their production routes are presented in the context of central carbon metabolic pathways as these key metabolites serve as precursors for the chemicals to be produced. The resulting biochemical map allows the detection and analysis of optimal synthetic pathways for a given industrial chemical.

This metabolic map describes representative chemicals that can be produced either by biological and/or chemical means. Red arrows represent chemical routes and blue arrows represent biological routes. Intermediate metabolites in the metabolism of a living organism can serve as a platform toward the production of industrially relevant chemicals. A more comprehensive map presented by the team can be found as a poster in the review.

Metabolic Map

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