Team UT Knoxville



Aromatic aldehydes have a wide range of useful applications, from flavors and fragrances to pharmaceutical precursors and plastic additives. A large majority of these aldehydes are produced at low yield and over toxic catalysts. This gives rise to the need to produce these molecules in a renewable, environmentally friendly, and high-yield manner. Our project aims to meet these goals by developing a synthetic biology route to generate a library of aromatic aldehydes from their respective inexpensive toluene-based precursors that are an environmentally toxic waste in crude oil processing. We utilize the xyl ortho pathway of Pseudomonas putida, which is cloned into Escherichia coli as a host platform. This pathway converts toluene derivatives with a wide range of functional groups in the meta and para positions on the ring to their corresponding aromatic aldehydes, leaving the meta and para substituents unaltered and therefore allowing for development of a library of products.

  • Crude oil processing produces toxic byproducts, such as benzene, toluene, and xylenes.
  • These byproducts can contaminate the groundwater and soil.
  • These harmful byproducts can be converted to useful products in a renewable, environmentally-friendly, and high-yield manner via E. coli.
  • The TOL pathway in P. putida can convert these byproducts into aromatic aldehydes.
  • The aromatic aldehyde products are used in the fragrance and pharmaceutical industries.


  • Use E. coli engineered with the first 3 genes of the TOL pathway to produce aromatic aldehydes from toxic precursors
  • Develop a platform that can be switched on and off in the presence of the precursor
  • Submit these parts to the iGEM registry as part of the competition
  • Publish results in a scientific journal