Metabolic engineering for the synthesis of polyesters: A 100-year journey from polyhydroxyalkanoates to non-natural microbial polyesters

So Young Choi, Mi Na Rhie, Hee Taek Kim, Jeong Chan Joo, In Jin Cho, Jina Son, Seo Young Jo, Yu Jung Sohn, Kei Anne Baritugo, Jiwon Pyo, Youngjoon Lee, Sang Yup Lee, Si Jae Park

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

113 Scopus citations


As concerns increase regarding sustainable industries and environmental pollutions caused by the accumulation of non-degradable plastic wastes, bio-based polymers, particularly biodegradable plastics, have attracted considerable attention as potential candidates for solving these problems by substituting petroleum-based plastics. Among these candidates, polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs), natural polyesters that are synthesized and accumulated in a range of microorganisms, are considered as promising biopolymers since they have biocompatibility, biodegradability, and material properties similar to those of commodity plastics. Accordingly, substantial efforts have been made to gain a better understanding of mechanisms related to the biosynthesis and properties of PHAs and to develop natural and recombinant microorganisms that can efficiently produce PHAs comprising desired monomers with high titer and productivity for industrial applications. Recent advances in biotechnology, including those related to evolutionary engineering, synthetic biology, and systems biology, can provide efficient and effective tools and strategies that reduce time, labor, and costs to develop microbial platform strains that produce desired chemicals and materials. Adopting these technologies in a systematic manner has enabled microbial fermentative production of non-natural polyesters such as poly(lactate) [PLA], poly(lactate-co-glycolate) [PLGA], and even polyesters consisting of aromatic monomers from renewable biomass-derived carbohydrates, which can be widely used in current chemical industries. In this review, we present an overview of strain development for the production of various important natural PHAs, which will give the reader an insight into the recent advances and provide indicators for the future direction of engineering microorganisms as plastic cell factories. On the basis of our current understanding of PHA biosynthesis systems, we discuss recent advances in the approaches adopted for strain development in the production of non-natural polyesters, notably 2-hydroxycarboxylic acid-containing polymers, with particular reference to systems metabolic engineering strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-81
Number of pages35
JournalMetabolic Engineering
StatePublished - Mar 2020


  • Aromatic polyester
  • Non-natural polyester
  • Poly(lactate)
  • Poly(lactate-co-glycolate)
  • Polyhydroxyalkanoate
  • Systems metabolic engineering


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