Reconfiguring plant metabolism for biodegradable plastic production
Haiwei Lu, Guoliang Yuan, Steven H. Strauss, Timothy J. Tschaplinski, Gerald A. Tuskan, Jin-Gui Chen and Xiaohan Yang
05 August 2020, BioDesign Research: 2020: Article ID 9078303; doi: 10.34133/2020/9078303
For decades, plants have been the subject of genetic engineering to synthesize novel, value-added compounds. Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs), a large class of biodegradable biopolymers naturally synthesized in eubacteria, are among the novel products that have been introduced to make use of plant acetyl-CoA metabolic pathways. It was hoped that renewable PHA production would help address environmental issues associated with the accumulation of nondegradable plastic wastes. However, after three decades of effort synthesizing PHAs, and in particular the simplest form polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB), and seeking to improve their production in plants, it has proven very difficult to reach a commercially profitable rate in a normally growing plant. This seems to be due to the growth defects associated with PHA production and accumulation in plant cells. Here, we review major breakthroughs that have been made in plant-based PHA synthesis using traditional genetic engineering approaches and discuss challenges that have been encountered. Then, from the point of view of plant synthetic biology, we provide perspectives on reprograming plant acetyl-CoA pathways for PHA production, with the goal of maximizing PHA yield while minimizing growth inhibition. Specifically, we suggest genetic elements that can be considered in genetic circuit design, approaches for nuclear genome and plastome modification, and the use of multiomics and mathematical modeling in understanding and restructuring plant metabolic pathways.