Production of biorenewable styrene: utilization of biomass-derived sugars and insights into toxicity

Jieni Lian, Rebekah McKenna, Marjorie R. Rover, David Nielsen, Zhiyou Wen, Laura R. Jarboe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Fermentative production of styrene from glucose has been previously demonstrated in Escherichia coli. Here, we demonstrate the production of styrene from the sugars derived from lignocellulosic biomass depolymerized by fast pyrolysis. A previously engineered styrene-producing strain was further engineered for utilization of the anhydrosugar levoglucosan via expression of levoglucosan kinase. The resulting strain produced 240 ± 3 mg L−1 styrene from pure levoglucosan, similar to the 251 ± 3 mg L−1 produced from glucose. When provided at a concentration of 5 g L−1, pyrolytic sugars supported styrene production at titers similar to those from pure sugars, demonstrating the feasibility of producing this important industrial chemical from biomass-derived sugars. However, the toxicity of contaminant compounds in the biomass-derived sugars and styrene itself limit further gains in production. Styrene toxicity is generally believed to be due to membrane damage. Contrary to this prevailing wisdom, our quantitative assessment during challenge with up to 200 mg L−1 of exogenously provided styrene showed little change in membrane integrity; membrane disruption was observed only during styrene production. Membrane fluidity was also quantified during styrene production, but no changes were observed relative to the non-producing control strain. This observation that styrene production is much more damaging to the membrane integrity than challenge with exogenously supplied styrene provides insight into the mechanism of styrene toxicity and emphasizes the importance of verifying proposed toxicity mechanisms during production instead of relying upon results obtained during exogenous challenge.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)595-604
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2016


  • Biocatalyst inhibition
  • Laccase
  • Levoglucosan kinase
  • Membrane damage
  • Styrene

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Bioengineering
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology


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