Self-Assembling Cell-Free Systems for Scalable Bioconversion

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Seattle, Washington
Project Term:
08/25/2021 - 02/24/2024

Technology Description:

The University of Washington will develop cell-free (in vitro) platforms that produce functional multi-enzyme systems and perform the cost-effective bioconversion of CO2 into industrial chemicals. Cell-free transcription-translation (TXTL) is a popular, robust approach for producing cell-free biocatalytic systems capable of complex, multi-enzyme reactions. TXTL-based systems are genetically programmable, allow for rapid prototyping, and could permit the integration of multiple biochemical functions— including complex membrane proteins—that would otherwise be incompatible with one another. Rather than incurring the high costs and process inefficiencies associated with producing and purifying multiple enzymes in separate steps, the team will engineer technologies to directly express complex, multi-enzyme systems in place and optimized for CO2 bioconversion. It will create a self-assembling system that electrochemically regenerates formate reducing equivalents in real time and assimilates the formate into malate for use in polymer, beverage and food, textile, agricultural and pharmaceutical industries.

Potential Impact:

The application of biology to sustainable uses of waste carbon resources for the generation of energy, intermediates, and final products---i.e., supplanting the “bioeconomy”—provides economic, environmental, social, and national security benefits and offers a promising means of carbon management.


If successful, the new technologies are expected to catalyze new conversion platforms for biofuels and other high-volume bioproducts that are capable of promoting U.S. energy security by increasing recoverable product from the same mass of feedstock through the avoidance of wasting carbon in the form of CO2.


This program funds cutting-edge technologies to de-risk the engineering of carbon optimized bioconversion pathways capable of generating valuable bioproducts such as sustainable aviation fuel without emission of CO2 as a waste product.


The technologies funded by this program can increase the potential bioproduct output by more than 40% without requiring another square inch of land or pound of feedstock, while catalyzing the next generation of carbon optimized bio-based manufacturing.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Steven Singer
Project Contact:
Prof. James Carothers
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Georgia Institute of Technology
Northwestern University
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
University of Minnesota

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