The Yokohama Rubber Co., Ltd., announced that it has developed the world’s first technology capable of efficiently producing isoprene from a biomass. The new breakthrough is the result of joint research with RIKEN and Zeon Corporation.
Isoprene is a raw material in the production of synthetic rubber (polyisoprene rubber) used in automobile tyres and other applications. Industrial isoprene currently is produced as a by-product of naphtha pyrolysis. The development of this new technology for synthesising isoprene will reduce dependence on petroleum and contribute to the reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2), which is considered a cause of global warming.
Yokohama Rubber, RIKEN and Zeon began joint research in 2013 and in 2015 discovered a new isoprene-synthesising process using a computer-based in-silico metabolic design technology. Further development of this new technology has led to the creation of cells with excellent isoprene-synthesising capability based on a new artificial pathway and highly active enzymes.
The new technology has succeeded in creating cells with the in-vivo capability of generating isoprene from a biomass (sugar) that serves as the starting material. The in-vivo generated isoprene is then polymerised to achieve synthesis of polyisoprene rubber. The research leading to this new technology took advantage of the cell design and plant science technologies of the RIKEN Center for Sustainable Resource Science (CSRS).
It is widely understood that isoprene is produced naturally from mevalonic acid (an intermediate substance formed from sugar) through a five-stage reaction, but the new artificial pathway constructed through the joint research reduces that process to two stages.
Furthermore, the highly active enzymes possess a phenomenal isoprene-producing capability that is not achievable by natural enzymes. Introducing this artificial pathway and these enzymes into colon bacilli gives the bacteria an isoprene-generating ability that it lacks in nature and enables an efficient artificial synthesis of isoprene. Yokohama Rubber has confirmed that this technology can also be applied to butadiene-based synthetic rubber and other diene rubbers.