Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Biological and Irrigation Engineering


Dean H. Scott Hinton


Polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) is a polyhydroxyalkanoate that has been extensively studied as a potential biodegradable replacement for petrochemically derived plastics. The synthesis pathway of PHB is native to Ralstonia eutropha, but the genes for the PHB pathway have successfully been introduced into Escherichia coli through plasmids such as the pBHR68 plasmid. However, the production of PHB needs to be more cost-effective before it can be commercially produced.

A mathematical model for PHB synthesis was developed to identify target genes that could be genetically engineered to increase PHB production. The major metabolic pathways included in the model were glycolysis, acetyl coenzyme A (acetyl-CoA) synthesis, tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle, glyoxylate bypass, and PHB synthesis. Each reaction in the selected metabolic pathways was modeled using the kinetic mechanism identified for the associated enzyme. The promoters and transcription factors for each enzyme were incorporated into the model. The model was validated through comparison with other published models and experimental PHB production data. The predictive model identified 16 enzymes as having no effect on PHB production, 5 enzymes with a slight effect on PHB production, and 9 enzymes with large effects on PHB production. Decreasing the substrate affinity of the enzyme citrate synthase resulted in the largest increase in PHB synthesis. The second largest increase was observed from lowering the substrate affinity of glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase. The predictive model also indicated that increasing the activity of the lac promoter in the pBHR68 plasmid resulted in the largest increase in the rate of PHB production.

The predictive model successfully identified two genes and one promoter as targets for genetic engineering to create an optimized strain of E. coli for PHB production. The substrate-binding sites for the genes gltA (citrate synthase) and gapA (glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase) should be genetically engineered to be less effective at binding the substrates. The lac promoter in the pBHR68 plasmid should be genetically engineered to more closely match the consensus sequence for binding to RNA polymerase. The model predicts that an optimized strain of E. coli for PHB production could be achieved by genetically altering gltA, gapA, and the lac promoter.


Publication made available electronically December 21, 2011.