Metabolic engineering has been defined as the purposeful modification of intermediary metabolism using recombinant DNA techniques. With this definition metabolic engineering includes: (1) inserting new pathways in microorganisms with the aim of producing novel metabolites, e.g., production of polyketides by Streptomyces; (2) production of heterologous peptides, e.g., production of human insulin, erythropoitin, and tPA; and (3) improvement of both new and existing processes, e.g., production of antibiotics and industrial enzymes. Metabolic engineering is a multidisciplinary approach, which involves input from chemical engineers, molecular biologists, biochemists, physiologists, and analytical chemists. Obviously, molecular biology is central in the production of novel products, as well as in the improvement of existing processes. However, in the latter case, input from other disciplines is pivotal in order to target the genetic modifications; with the rapid developments in molecular biology, progress in the field is likely to be limited by procedures to identify the optimal genetic changes. Identification of the optimal genetic changes often requires a meticulous mapping of the cellular metabolism at different operating conditions, and the application of metabolic engineering to process optimization is, therefore, expected mainly to have an impact on the improvement of processes where yield, productivity, and titer are important design factors, i.e., in the production of metabolites and industrial enzymes. Despite the prospect of obtaining major improvement through metabolic engineering, this approach is, however, not expected to completely replace the classical approach to strain improvement—random mutagenesis followed by screening. Identification of the optimal genetic changes for improvement of a given process requires analysis of the underlying mechanisms, at best, at the molecular level. To reveal these mechanisms a number of different techniques may be applied: (1) detailed physiological studies, (2) metabolic flux analysis (MFA), (3) metabolic control analysis (MCA), (4) thermodynamic analysis of pathways, and (5) kinetic modeling. In this article, these different techniques are discussed and their applications to the analysis of different processes are illustrated. © 1998 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Biotechnol Bioeng 58:125–132, 1998.