Metabolic engineering seeks to control the complex interplay and regulation of multi-enzyme processes to perform complex chemical reactions that can produce costly or difficult to manufacture substances. It is useful to think of biocatalysis and metabolic engineering in terms of a manufacturing plant where raw materials are converted into a final product, much like steel, plastic, and other materials are used to manufacture a car. If a biocatalyst is analogous to a single machine, i.e., converting a piece of steel into an auto body panel, then metabolic engineering is analogous to an assembly line comprised of many machines (many biocatalysts) that act in concert to assemble an auto (bioengineered product).
Metabolic engineering often relies on molecular biology to modify a cell by pathway engineering. In this strategy the genetic and regulatory processes within a cell are engineered to optimize the production of a desired bioengineered product. Pathway engineering must be done carefully to preserve the viability of the cell and it is essential to control the rates of intermediate, product, and byproduct formation.
Research in biocatalysis and metabolic engineering within the BCME Constellation is aimed at understanding and exploiting of natural metabolic processes found in cellular pathways for chemical transformation, energy transfer, and supramolecular construction. In addition, metabolic engineering has been focused on constructing unnatural pathways, in some cases with engineered enzymes. This technology has become increasingly important to the production of chemicals, materials, and pharmaceuticals. More recently, energy and biofuels have become a critical area for the application of biocatalysis and metabolic engineering. The BCME Constellation is currently well-funded by NIH, NSF, DOD and industrial partners.