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Unleashing the capacity of Rhodococcus for converting lignin into lipids

by Arthur J Ragauskas
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Biotechnology Advances
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Bioconversion of bioresources/wastes (e.g., lignin, chemical pulping byproducts) represents a promising approach for developing a bioeconomy to help address growing energy and materials demands. Rhodococcus, a promising microbial strain, utilizes numerous carbon sources to produce lipids, which are precursors for synthesizing biodiesel and aviation fuels. However, compared to chemical conversion, bioconversion involves living cells, which is a more complex system that needs further understanding and upgrading. Various wastes amenable to bioconversion are reviewed herein to highlight the potential of Rhodococci for producing lipid-derived bioproducts. In light of the abundant availability of these substrates, Rhodococcus’ metabolic pathways converting them to lipids are analyzed from a “beginning-to-end” view. Based on an in-depth understanding of microbial metabolic routes, genetic modifications of Rhodococcus by employing emerging tools (e.g., multiplex genome editing, biosensors, and genome-scale metabolic models) are presented for promoting the bioconversion. Co-solvent enhanced lignocellulose fractionation (CELF) strategy facilitates the generation of a lignin-derived aromatic stream suitable for the Rhodococcus’ utilization. Novel alkali sterilization (AS) and elimination of thermal sterilization (ETS) approaches can significantly enhance the bioaccessibility of lignin and its derived aromatics in aqueous fermentation media, which promotes lipid titer significantly. In order to achieve value-added utilization of lignin, biodiesel and aviation fuel synthesis from lignin and lipids are further discussed. The possible directions for unleashing the capacity of Rhodococcus through synergistically modifying microbial strains, substrates, and fermentation processes are proposed toward a sustainable biological lignin valorization.