Naturally, many aerobic organisms degrade lignin-derived aromatics through conserved intermediates including protocatechuate and catechol. Employing this microbial approach offers a potential solution for valorizing lignin into valuable chemicals for a potential lignocellulosic biorefinery and enabling bioeconomy. In this study, two hybrid biochemical routes combining lignin chemical depolymerization, plant metabolic engineering, and synthetic pathway reconstruction were demonstrated for valorizing lignin into value-added products. In the biochemical route 1, alkali lignin was chemically depolymerized into vanillin and syringate as major products, which were further bio-converted into cis, cis-muconic acid (ccMA) and pyrogallol, respectively, using engineered Escherichia coli strains. In the second biochemical route, the shikimate pathway of Tobacco plant was engineered to accumulate protocatechuate (PCA) as a soluble intermediate compound. The PCA extracted from the engineered Tobacco was further converted into ccMA using the engineered E. coli strain. This study reports a direct process for converting lignin into ccMA and pyrogallol as value-added chemicals, and more importantly demonstrates benign methods for valorization of polymeric lignin that is inherently heterogeneous and recalcitrant. Our approach also validates the promising combination of plant engineering with microbial chassis development for the production of value added and speciality chemicals.
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