A new modeling framework from UW-Madison could be used to identify economically viable candidates for bio-produced chemicals.

Tony Wenzhao Wu is the lead author of a study which details this identification method. He’s a PhD candidate from UW-Madison, and developed the method alongside Christos Maravelias, a professor of chemical engineering; and Jennifer Reed, an associate professor of chemical engineering.

He explains that these bio-produced chemicals are created through a process called microbial conversion.

“Biotechnologies today are quite advanced,” Wu says. “We can use metabolic engineering tools to genetically engineer microbes like E. coli and yeast to produce a lot of different chemicals that are currently produced from fossil fuel feed stocks like petroleum.”

He says researchers in his field have been hoping such bioproduction process would replace some of the traditional processes “for environmental benefits and also potentially economic advantages.”

For scientists like these, the fundamental question is how to target chemicals that show the most promise for biological production.

“This is the question we answer in this work,” Wu said.

According to him, studies in the past that have tried to get at this problem have focused on identifying platform chemicals that could be converted to final products later through chemical conversions.

“In other words, the focus was on studying a few interesting chemicals that currently attract a lot of attention, but we want to consider a much bigger pool of candidates,” he said, noting that many of those target chemicals can be made directly by microbes without needing to go through platform chemicals first. Read the full story here.