Editorial: State-of-the-art reviews in industrial biotechnology


  • Sang Yup Lee

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Increased concerns for our environment and limited fossil resources has led to a growing interest in establishing sustainable systems for the production of chemicals and materials from renewable resources. Industrial biotechnology, also known as “white biotechnology” in Europe, is playing an essential role in this movement. In fact, the increasing world-wide interest on industrial biotechnology has triggered the formation of the “World Council on Industrial Biotechnology” (http://www.whitebt.org), which is a non-profit organization consisting of representatives of companies worldwide and experts on industrial biotechnology from the public sector. In order to develop successful industrial biotechnology industry, it is essential to perform innovative collaborations among all stakeholders including the agricultural industry, farmers, logistics for transferring biomass, enzymes and biomass pretreatment industry, biorefinery industry, consumer product industry, consumers, governments and the public, as concluded by the World Economic Forum's China Biorefinery Summit held on December 14, 2011 in Beijing.

World Economic Forum: Successful industrial biotechnology requires innovative collaborations

This special issue contains seven state-of-the-art review papers on industrial biotechnology. Brent Erickson and colleagues of BIO give a very informative overview on industrial biotechnology focusing on the opportunities of bio-based chemicals followed by perspectives [1]. A paper from my own group focuses on the current status of biobutanol production with a focus on metabolic pathways and metabolic engineering [2]. As butanol is not only an advanced biofuel but also an important industrial solvent, it is expected to be produced at large industrial scale again in the near future as it has been in the past.

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Park et al. [3] review the current status of bio-based production of lactate-containing polyesters covering metabolic engineering strategies and production status. It is notable that one-step fermentative production of poly(lactic acid) and other lactate-containing polyester was made possible by introducing the created enzymes/pathway leading to the formation of such polymers, which opened up a new avenue for the bio-based production of unnatural chemicals and materials (see image of gown made from PLA derived fabric above).

Succinic acid is one of the most important platform bio-based chemicals, and can be used in large amounts for the synthesis of various polymers. George Bennett of Rice University [4] reviews the current state of succinic acid production using engineered Escherichia coli.

Three interesting topics that have been less frequently covered in recent times in the field of industrial biotechnology are also included in this special issue. Arnold Driessen et al. [5] provide a comprehensive review of novel approaches and strategies for synthesizing β-lactam antibiotics, which are, and will remain, an important class of antibiotics to fight against bacterial infections. Another interesting review on the production of glucuronic acid-based polysaccharides of biomedical interest contributed by Chiara Schiraldi et al. [6] is also included in this issue. Last but not least, the strategies for rational engineering of E. coli strains for the efficient manufacturing of plasmid biopharmaceutical are reviewed by Kristala Prather et al. [7].

These state-of-the-art reviews emphasize the role of industrial biotechnology in realizing a sustainable world

Although these seven review articles cannot cover all the exciting developments being made in the field of industrial biotechnology, they provide the state-of-the-art examples of industrial biotechnology and emphasize its increasingly important roles in realizing a sustainable world. We believe that many more exciting developments in industrial biotechnology will continue to emerge, and hope that Biotechnology Journal will have the privilege of publishing such papers.

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Sang Yup Lee

Co-Editor-in-Chief, Biotechnology Journal