Engineering Escherichia coli for renewable benzyl alcohol production

Shawn Pugh, Rebekah McKenna, Ibrahim Halloum, David Nielsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Benzyl alcohol is an aromatic hydrocarbon used as a solvent and an intermediate chemical in the pharmaceutical, cosmetics, and flavor/fragrance industries. The de novo biosynthesis of benzyl alcohol directly from renewable glucose was herein explored using a non-natural pathway engineered in Escherichia coli. Benzaldehyde was first produced from endogenous phenylpyruvate via three heterologous steps, including hydroxymandelate synthase (encoded by hmaS) from Amycolatopsis orientalis, followed by (. S)-mandelate dehydrogenase (encoded by mdlB) and phenylglyoxylate decarboxylase (encoded by mdlC) from Pseudomonas putida ATCC 12633. The subsequent rapid and efficient reduction of benzaldehyde to benzyl alcohol occurred by the combined activity and native regulation of multiple endogenous alcohol dehydrogenases and/or aldo-keto reductases. Through systematic deletion of competing aromatic amino acid biosynthesis pathways to promote endogenous phenylpyruvate availability, final benzyl alcohol titers as high as 114±1. mg/L were realized, representing a yield of 7.6±0.1. mg/g on glucose and a ~5-fold improvement over initial strains.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39-45
Number of pages7
JournalMetabolic Engineering Communications
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015


  • Aromatic chemicals
  • Benzaldehyde
  • Benzyl alcohol

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Biomedical Engineering


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