The properties of poly(3-hydroxybutyrate) combined with the fact that it can be produced easily by numerous prokaryotes from renewable resources and even from potentially toxic waste products using well-known fermentation processes have generated keen interest in this biopolyester as a substitute for chemo-synthetic petroleum-derived polymers in many applications. However, the high price of poly(3HB) compared with the conventional synthetic materials currently in use has restricted its availability in a wide range of applications. If the economic viability of poly(3HB) production and its competitiveness are to be improved, more must be found out about the phenotypic optimization and the upper limits of bacterial systems as the factory of poly(3HB). In this chapter, two aspects of poly(3HB) are reviewed--poly(3HB) formation as a physiological response to external limitations and overcoming internal bottlenecks, and poly(3HB) as a commercially attractive polyester. From a physiological viewpoint, the ability to synthesize and degrade poly(3HB) is considered an investment in the future and provides organisms with a selective advantage. Poly(3HB) is presented as a strategic survival polymer, and it is shown that growth-associated synthesis is not as rare as reported. The influence of the efficiency and velocity of cell multiplication and product formation, of poly(3HB) content and of productivity on the overall yield, and finally on the economics of the whole process are discussed and evaluated from the technological or consumer's point of view. The specific production rate and poly(3HB) content appear to be more important than the yield coefficients.
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