Engineered E. coli turn petroleum processing byproducts into scent ingredients

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In Tennessee, students from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville’s department of chemical and biomolecular engineering department have engineered E. coli to produce natural scents from chemical wastes.

The team, which received a gold medal at a synthetic biology competition organized by the International Genetically Engineered Machine Foundation, engineered the bacteria to convert benzene, toluene, and xylene isomers into aromatic aldehydes used in flavors, fragrances, and other products.

“iGem helps students not only with the opportunity to conduct research but also to learn about engagement and outreach to the public,” says Cong Trinh, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and faculty principal investigator on the project. “The students involved with the project were exposed to a multitude of research disciplines and possibilities, and this recognition for their project is excellent exposure for our university.”

Product yields were high, and the team plans to expand on the process for next year’s competition.