A team of engineers from the university’s Cockrell School of Engineering have used a combination of metabolic engineering and directed evolution to develop the yeast strain.

The Yarrowia lipolytica was developed by McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering associate professor Hal Alper and his team.

The strain was developed further to convert simple sugars into oils and fats, known as lipids, that can then be used in place of petroleum-derived products.

Alper said: "Our re-engineered strain serves as a stepping stone toward sustainable and renewable production of fuels such as biodiesel.

"Moreover, this work contributes to the overall goal of reaching energy independence."

The researchers have employed a combination of evolutionary engineering strategies to create the new, mutant strain of Yarrowia that produces 1.6 times as many lipids as their previous strain in a shorter time, reaching levels of 40g per liter, a concentration that could make yeast cells a viable platform in the creation of biofuels.

The researchers have found that cells with high lipid content would float to the top of a tube, whereas cells with lower lipid content would settle down at the bottom.

The yeast can also be used in biochemical production to produce oleochemicals, chemicals traditionally derived from plant and animal fats and petroleum, which are used to make a variety of household products.

Image: Researchers developed yeast cells that produce so much lipids that the cells float to the top of a tube. Photo: courtesy of The University of Texas at Austin.