Team:NYU Shanghai/Description

I Can't Believe It's Not Alcohol

Methyltransferase-1-mediated Consumption of Methanol

Project Description

Fake alcohol production in China has increased dramatically over the past few years as people continue to seek large profit from this black market industry. Fake alcohol can be considered as either illegally made drinks produced at home or drinks made with cheaper alternatives that are placed in brand bottles and passed off as being the real thing. NYU Shanghai 2017 iGEM team identified one of the most common added replacement: methanol, which is distinct from the “real alcohol,” ethanol. Despite their similarities in appearance and structure, the effects of these alcohols are quite different. While ethanol is naturally occurring and normally converted into acetic acid in the liver, methanol is usually synthetically produced and converted into formic acid, a much more reactive and highly toxic compound. Ingesting methanol has serious health consequences, ranging from blindness to even death. Through synthetic biology methods, we plan to utilize an existing natural mechanism which converts the dangerous methanol into an existing protein pathway’s harmless intermediate, methyl-mtaC (CH3-MtaC). We have found the blueprints to this pathway in the DNA of Methanosarcina acetivorans, and we plan to insert them into into Escherichia coli. The E. coli will utilize these blueprints to make two essential enzymes, MtaB and MtaC, which work together to transform the methanol present in fake alcohol into a harmless compound without affecting the concentration of ethanol in the solution.


Opulencia et al. Physiology and Posttranscriptional Regulation of Methanol: Coenzyme M Methyltransferase Isozymes in Methanosarcina acetivorans C2A.  JOURNAL OF BACTERIOLOGY, Nov. 2009; Vol. 191, No. 22. doi:10.1128/JB.00947-09

Woese, C. R., L. J. Magrum, and G. E. Fox. Archaebacteria. Journal of Molecular Evolution, Aug. 1978; 11(3):245-51

Wongnate et al. The Radical Mechanism of Biological Methane Synthesis by Methyl-Coenzyme M Reductase. Science, May. 2016; 352(6288): 953-958. doi: 10.1126/science.aaf0616


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