Methanol is becoming a cheap and sustainable source of carbon. Currently more methanol is produced than is purchased which makes it an ideal waste-resource for creating valuable products. The catch of course being, how do you transform methanol into what you really want?
Yeast strains are amazing at using sugar as a feedstock for the sustainable production of biofuels, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals. However, there isn’t yet a model yeast that can grow on methanol. Dr Tom Williams has recently been awarded a CSIRO Synthetic Biology Future Science Fellowship in order to match-make yeast and methanol.
Tom will set about making yeast chassis that can grow on methanol. This will involve some significant changes within the yeast through bringing in new biological components but the result will be foundational for the bio-products of the future.
Methanol is an ideal feedstock for bioconversion because it can be derived from the methane in natural gas reservoirs and municipal waste, as well as carbon dioxide derived from the combustion of non-food plant matter.
These methanol-derived bio-products are not quite what you think though. Tom has chosen his yeast strain so that it can incorporate metabolic “production” pathways from a variety of different organisms such as plants. Not all yeast strains can do this. In order to create the essential compounds that industry needs, the yeast must recreate pathways found in other organisms that already do the necessary work.
Tom will lay the groundwork for a biological platform than can create bio-products such as bulk and fine chemicals, biofuels, pharmaceuticals, flavours, fragrances, food products and textiles. All this from a cheap sustainable carbon source and yeast.