Identifying and creating pathways to improve biological lignin valorization Academic Article uri icon


  • © 2019 Biological lignin valorization to fuels and value-added chemicals enables sustainable and economic biorefineries. While significant progress has been made, several major challenges arose due to high recalcitrance and heterogeneity of lignin, which needs to be addressed to improve lignin processing. This work provides an overview of biological lignin conversion and its regulation from a metabolic engineering and systems biology viewpoint. Biological lignin valorization includes three stages: lignin depolymerization, aromatics degradation, and target product biosynthesis. Ligninolytic microorganisms have an extensive enzymatic toolbox to break down the lignin and convert heterogeneous lignin derivatives to central intermediates, such as protocatechuate or catechol, through a peripheral pathway. These intermediates undergo ring cleavage via the β-ketoadipate pathway and are ultimately transformed into metabolites by yielding acetyl-CoA for internal product biosynthesis, such as triacylglycerols, polyhydroxyalkanoates, etc. Bioprospecting will expand the knowledge base of ligninolytic microbial communities, strains, and enzymes to facilitate the understanding of aromatics metabolism. Systems biology analyses achieve an understanding of molecular and systems-level degradation mechanisms and metabolic pathways of lignin and aromatics. By identifying these mechanisms, synthetic biology provides promising approaches to create the lignin conversion pathways and engineer ligninolytic strains suitable as potential hosts for lignin conversion. Techno-economic analysis of biological lignin upgrading to coproducts in biorefineries will guide the implementation of lignin valorization by mitigating technical risk for scale-up and improving the profitability of biorefinery. By improving the understanding of biological lignin valorization, it should be possible to create biological lignin valorization route to effectively produce value-added products from lignin.

published proceedings

  • Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews

author list (cited authors)

  • Liu, Z., Le, R. K., Kosa, M., Yang, B., Yuan, J., & Ragauskas, A. J.

citation count

  • 59

complete list of authors

  • Liu, Zhi-Hua||Le, Rosemary K||Kosa, Matyas||Yang, Bin||Yuan, Joshua||Ragauskas, Arthur J

publication date

  • May 2019