Metabolic engineering

Metabolic engineering for the production of chemicals from renewable resources.


Novozymes has developed world-class tools and technologies for the development of industrial enzymes. 

These technologies include gene expression, artificial evolution, protein design and engineering, high-throughput screening, mutagenesis and selection, fermentation development, and product recovery. Every day Novozymes brings all of this expertise to bear on the challenges of developing enzymes for a wide variety of applications. However, the application of these powerful tools is not limited to enzyme development, and Novozymes is leveraging these same techniques in the area of metabolic engineering for the production of specialty and bulk chemicals.

In the past, traditional metabolic pathway engineering has been used to develop microorganisms for the production of compounds like amino acids, vitamins, organic acids, and polymers, and commercial fermentation processes using these organisms remain in use today.

Typically, in order to produce a desired chemical compound by fermentation the metabolic pathway(s) leading to the compound is/are overexpressed in a cell by genetic engineering using classical mutagenesis and selection and/or recombinant techniques. The normal genetic and biochemical regulation of the genes and enzymes associated with the pathway is removed by further genetic manipulation, and the cells are “evolved” in the laboratory to make them tolerant to high concentrations of the product compound, which is often toxic to normal cells. Finally, a robust fermentation process is developed that allows high-level production of the desired compound.

While these traditional metabolic pathway engineering approaches have been used successfully for the chemical compounds mentioned above, the development of microorganisms and fermentation processes for the production of high-volume, low-cost (bulk) chemical compounds is an even bigger challenge because the production processes must be cost-competitive with existing large-scale, low-cost chemical manufacturing processes for the same compounds. This requires an even higher, more sophisticated level of metabolic engineering of the production microorganism.

Fortunately, in the past decade there has been an explosion in the development of advanced new tools (e.g., genome sequencing, bioinformatics, metabolomics, and systems biology) that have greatly accelerated the capabilities of metabolic engineering to deliver new, highly engineered organisms that enable even lower-cost production of chemicals from renewable resources. Novozymes is already deeply engaged in the use of these tools for enzyme development, and the extension of this knowledge to our metabolic engineering programs will allow us to find the true technological breakthroughs that will enable the required low cost of production of chemicals from renewable resources.

Moreover, Novozymes’ capabilities in metabolic engineering will in turn benefit future enzyme development. Our investment in engineering cellular metabolism for chemical production will also reveal new ways to improve the metabolic efficiency of our enzyme production organisms. Thus, Novozymes’ powerful combination of enzyme technology and metabolic engineering positions us very well to continue to succeed in our ambition to provide sustainable solutions for the world.