Key Genes for Biosynthesis of Hydrocarbon Biofuels Identified in Bacterium Micrococcus luteus

Aliphatic hydrocarbons are highly appealing targets for advanced cellulosic biofuels.

The Science

JBEI researchers have elucidated the genes and a proposed biochemical pathway for the production of long-chain alkenes – key chemical components of petroleum-based gasoline and diesel fuels – in the bacterium Micrococcus luteus. Building on insights from microbial alkene research reported 4 decades ago, JBEI researchers hypothesized that a key mechanism for long-chain alkene biosynthesis would involve decarboxylation and condensation of fatty acids. By searching the genome of the alkene-producing bacterium M. luteus, researchers found three candidate genes with conserved sequences associated with condensing enzymes. Expression of these genes in E. coli resulted in long-chain alkene production, but additional research will be needed to reveal the specific biochemical role that each of the enzymes encoded by these genes plays in alkene synthesis. A wide range of bacteria has been found to contain genes similar to those that encode M. luteus alkene biosynthesis enzymes, so researchers will have an opportunity to learn more about these enzymes by exploring their diversity in nature.

BER Program Manager

Dawn Adin

U.S. Department of Energy, Biological and Environmental Research (SC-33)
Biological Systems Science Division
[email protected]


Beller, H. R., E. B. Goh, and J. D. Keasling. 2010. “Genes Involved in Long-Chain Alkene BioBiosynthesis in Micrococcus luteus,” Applied and Environmental Microbiology 76(4), 1212-23. DOI:10.1128/AEM.02312-09.