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Microbes to Sustainably Cheaply Produce 12-Propanediol from Common Sugars


The major commodity chemical 12-propanediol (also known as 12-PD or propylene glycol) is used in certain resins laundry detergents pharmaceuticals cosmetics and antifreeze. More than a billion pounds of the compound are produced annually in the United States. Conventionally made from petrochemicals and involving several toxic compounds and large quantities of water 12-PD can be produced more sustainably from glycerin. Using microorganisms capable of secreting the compound from sugar is an even more environmentally responsible alternative. Very expensive sugars and phosphate-free components however traditionally have been required. UW–Madison researchers have developed a method of producing 12-PD using microorganisms like E. coli or yeast genetically transformed to express reductive enzyme activity. First the DNA sequences that encode the desired enzyme are obtained and inserted or overexpressed in the microbe using standard techniques. Plasmids for example that carry the enzymatic sequence may be introduced or the sequence can be integrated into the organism’s chromosome. In the presence of common sugars including glucose fructose and lactose the microbe begins fermentation that yields 12-PD which then may be harvested from the cell media. Applications: Industrial production of 12-propanediol (propylene glycol) for use in solvents unsaturated polyester resins pharmaceuticals moisturizers cosmetics and coolants.


1) Uses common cheap sugars 2) Existing large facilities can be easily adapted. 3) Microbe-based method is clean and environmentally friendly. 4) No large quantities of water high temperatures or pressure 5) No toxic waste

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