Due to the ongoing crises of fossil fuel depletion, climate change, and environmental pollution, microbial processes are increasingly considered as a potential alternative for cleaner and more efficient production of the diverse chemicals required for modern civilization. However, many issues, including low efficiency of raw material conversion and unintended release of genetically modified microorganisms into the environment, have limited the use of bioprocesses that rely on recombinant microorganisms. Cell-free metabolic engineering is emerging as a new approach that overcomes the limitations of existing cell-based systems. Instead of relying on metabolic processes carried out by living cells, cell-free metabolic engineering harnesses the metabolic activities of cell lysates in vitro. Such approaches offer several potential benefits, including operational simplicity, high conversion yield and productivity, and prevention of environmental release of microorganisms. In this article, we review the recent progress in this field and discuss the prospects of this technique as a next-generation bioconversion platform for the chemical industry.
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