The cell membrane plays a central role in the fitness and performance of microbial cell factories and therefore it is an attractive engineering target. The goal of this work is to develop a systematic framework for identifying membrane features for use as engineering targets. The metrics that describe the composition of the membrane can be visualized as “knobs” that modulate various “outcomes”, such as physical properties of the membrane and metabolic activity in the form of growth and productivity, with these relationships varying depending on the condition. We generated a set of strains with altered membrane lipid composition via expression of des, fabA and fabB and performed a rigorous characterization of these knobs and outcomes across several individual inhibitory conditions. Here, the knobs are the relative abundance of unsaturated lipids and lipids containing cyclic rings; the average lipid length, and the ratio of linear and non-linear lipids (L/nL ratio). The outcomes are membrane permeability, hydrophobicity, fluidity, and specific growth rate. This characterization identified significant correlations between knobs and outcomes that were specific to individual inhibitors, but also were significant across all tested conditions. For example, across all conditions, the L/nL ratio is positively correlated with the cell surface hydrophobicity, and the average lipid length is positively correlated with specific growth rate. A subsequent analysis of the data with the individual inhibitors identified pairs of lipid metrics and membrane properties that were predicted to impact cell growth in seven modeled scenarios with two or more inhibitors. The L/nL ratio and the membrane hydrophobicity were predicted to impact cell growth with the highest frequency. We experimentally validated this prediction in the combined condition of 42 °C, 2.5 mM furfural and 2% v/v ethanol in minimal media. Membrane hydrophobicity was confirmed to be a significant predictor of ethanol production. This work demonstrates that membrane physical properties can be used to predict the performance of biocatalysts in single and multiple inhibitory conditions, and possibly as an engineering target. In this manner, membrane properties can possibly be used as screening or selection metrics for library- or evolution-based strain engineering.
Mechanocatalysis is a promising method for depolymerization of lignocellulosic biomass. Microbial utilization of the resulting oligosaccharides is one potential route of adding value to the depolymerized biomass. However, it is unclear how readily these oligosaccharides are utilized by standard cell factories. Here, we investigate utilization of cellulose subjected to mechanocatalytic depolymerization, using ethanologenic Escherichia coli as a model fermentation organism. The mechanocatalytic oligosaccharides supported ethanol titers similar to those observed when glucose was provided at comparable concentrations. Tracking of the various oligomers, using maltose (alpha-1,4) and cellobiose (beta-1,4) oligomers as representative standards of the orientation, but not linkage, of the glycosidic bond, suggests that the malto-like-oligomers are more readily utilized than cello-like-oligomers, consistent with poor growth with cellotetraose or cellopentaose as sole carbon source. Thus, mechanocatalytic oligosaccharides are a promising substrate for cell factories, and microbial utilization of these sugars could possibly be improved by addressing utilization of cello-like oligomers.
Adaptive laboratory evolution is often used to improve the performance of microbial cell factories. Reverse engineering of evolved strains enables learning and subsequent incorporation of novel design strategies via the design-build-test-learn cycle. Here, we reverse engineer a strain of Escherichia coli previously evolved for increased tolerance of octanoic acid (C8), an attractive biorenewable chemical, resulting in increased C8 production, increased butanol tolerance, and altered membrane properties. Here, evolution was determined to have occurred first through the restoration of WaaG activity, involved in the production of lipopolysaccharides, then an amino acid change in RpoC, a subunit of RNA polymerase, and finally mutation of the BasS-BasR two component system. All three mutations were required in order to reproduce the increased growth rate in the presence of 20 mM C8 and increased cell surface hydrophobicity; the WaaG and RpoC mutations both contributed to increased C8 titers, with the RpoC mutation appearing to be the major driver of this effect. Each of these mutations contributed to changes in the cell membrane. Increased membrane integrity and rigidity and decreased abundance of extracellular polymeric substances can be attributed to the restoration of WaaG. The increase in average lipid tail length can be attributed to the RpoCH419P mutation, which also confers tolerance to other industrially-relevant inhibitors, such as furfural, vanillin and n-butanol. The RpoCH419P mutation may impact binding or function of the stringent response alarmone ppGpp to RpoC site 1. Each of these mutations provides novel strategies for engineering microbial robustness, particularly at the level of the microbial cell membrane.
The economic viability of bio-production processes is often limited by damage to the microbial cell membrane and thus there is a demand for strategies to increase the robustness of the cell membrane. Damage to the microbial membrane is also a common mode of action by antibiotics. Membrane-impermeable DNA-binding dyes are often used to assess membrane integrity in conjunction with flow cytometry. We demonstrate that in situ assessment of the membrane permeability of E. coli to SYTOX Green is consistent with flow cytometry, with the benefit of lower experimental intensity, lower cost, and no need for a priori selection of sampling times. This method is demonstrated by the characterization of four membrane engineering strategies (deletion of aas, deletion of cfa, increased expression of cfa, and deletion of bhsA) for their effect on octanoic acid tolerance, with the finding that deletion of bhsAincreased tolerance and substantially decreased membrane leakage.
Engineering remains the least gender diverse of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. Chemical engineering (ChE) and electrical engineering (EE) are exemplars of relatively high and low gender diversity, respectively. Here, we investigate departmental, institutional, and regional factors associated with gender diversity among BS graduates within the US, 2010–2016. For both fields, gender diversity was significantly higher at private institutions (p < 1×10-6) and at historically black institutions (p < 1×10-5). No significant association was observed with gender diversity among tenure-track faculty, PhD-granting status, and variations in departmental name beyond the standard “chemical engineering” or “electrical engineering”. Gender diversity among EE graduates was significantly decreased (p = 8×10-5) when a distinct degree in computer engineering was available; no such association was observed between ChE gender diversity and the presence of biology-associated degrees. States with a highly gender diverse ChE workforce had a significantly higher degree of gender diversity among BS graduates (p = 3×10-5), but a significant association was not observed for EE. State variation in funding of support services for K-12 pupils significantly impacted gender diversity of graduates in both fields (p < 1×10-3), particularly in regards to instructional staff support (p < 5×10-4). Nationwide, gender diversity could not be concluded to be either significantly increasing or significantly decreasing for either field.
The economic viability of the biorefinery concept is limited by the valorization of lignin. One possible method of lignin valorization is biological upgrading with aromatic-catabolic microbes. In conjunction, lignin monomers can be produced by fast pyrolysis and fractionation. However, biological upgrading of these lignin monomers is limited by low water solubility. Here, we address the problem of low water solubility with an emulsifier blend containing approximately 70 wt% Tween® 20 and 30 wt% Span® 80. Pseudomonas putida KT2440 grew to an optical density (OD600) of 1.0 ± 0.2 when supplied with 1.6 wt% emulsified phenolic monomer-rich product produced by fast pyrolysis of red oak using an emulsifier dose of 0.076 ± 0.002 g emulsifier blend per g of phenolic monomer-rich product. This approach partially mitigated the toxicity of the model phenolic monomer p-coumarate to the microbe, but not benzoate or vanillin. This study provides a proof of concept that processing of biomass-derived phenolics to increase aqueous availability can enhance microbial utilization.
Thermochemical processing is a promising method for the rapid depolymerization of biomass. This study investigated switchgrass, corn stover, red oak, hybrid poplar, and loblolly pine in terms of heteropolymer and elemental composition, and the distribution and composition of the fast pyrolysis products. Corn stover differed from other biomass types in that less of the biomass was recovered as sugar or phenolic oil (PO) and more of the biomass was recovered as bio-char and bio-gas. The sugar-rich aqueous stream recovered from the bio-oil heavy fraction was characterized in terms of sugar content and distribution, inhibitor content, and ability to support production of ethanol by Escherichia coli KO11 + lgkas a model biorenewable product. Levoglucosan was the most abundant sugar from each type of biomass, followed by either xylose or cellobiosan. For hybrid poplar, cellobiosan accounted for 30 wt% of the total sugar pool. Each of the sugar streams also contained a variety of inhibitors, particularly 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (5-HMF) and methylcyclopentenolone. Methylcyclopentenolone, maple lactone, was found to decrease the specific growth rate of E. coli by 50% when present at 0.72 wt%, indicating that it is less toxic than furfural, acetic acid and guaiacol. Sugars produced from switchgrass contained 4-fold less contaminants on a per-sugar basis than those from poplar and pine. All of the sugar streams contained too many inhibitors to be used at an industrially feasible concentration without additional detoxification. The poplar-derived pyrolytic sugar syrup was particularly inhibitory, possibly due to the high abundance of aromatic hydrocarbons, such as xylenes, and anisoles.
Microbial biocatalysts such as Escherichia coli and Saccharomyces cerevisiae have been extensively subjected to Metabolic Engineering for the fermentative production of biorenewable fuels and chemicals. This often entails the introduction of new enzymes, deletion of unwanted enzymes and efforts to fine-tune enzyme abundance in order to attain the desired strain performance. Enzyme performance can be quantitatively described in terms of the Michaelis-Menten type parameters Km, turnover number kcat and Ki, which roughly describe the affinity of an enzyme for its substrate, the speed of a reaction and the enzyme sensitivity to inhibition by regulatory molecules. Here we describe examples of where knowledge of these parameters have been used to select, evolve or engineer enzymes for the desired performance and enabled increased production of biorenewable fuels and chemicals. Examples include production of ethanol, isobutanol, 1-butanol and tyrosine and furfural tolerance. The Michaelis-Menten parameters can also be used to judge the cofactor dependence of enzymes and quantify their preference for NADH or NADPH. Similarly, enzymes can be selected, evolved or engineered for the preferred cofactor preference. Examples of exporter engineering and selection are also discussed in the context of production of malate, valine and limonene.
Fermentative production of many attractive biorenewable fuels and chemicals is limited by product toxicity in the form of damage to the microbial cell membrane. Metabolic engineering of the production organism can help mitigate this problem, but there is a need for identification and prioritization of the most effective engineering targets. Here, we use a set of previously characterized environmental Escherichia coli isolates with high tolerance and production of octanoic acid, a model membrane-damaging biorenewable product, as a case study for identifying and prioritizing membrane engineering strategies. This characterization identified differences in the membrane lipid composition, fluidity, integrity, and cell surface hydrophobicity from those of the lab strain MG1655. Consistent with previous publications, decreased membrane fluidity was associated with increased fatty acid production ability. Maintenance of high membrane integrity or longer membrane lipids seemed to be of less importance than fluidity. Cell surface hydrophobicity was also directly associated with fatty acid production titers, with the strength of this association demonstrated by plasmid-based expression of the multiple stress resistance outer membrane protein BhsA. This expression of bhsA was effective in altering hydrophobicity, but the direction and magnitude of the change differed between strains. Thus, additional strategies are needed to reliably engineer cell surface hydrophobicity. This work demonstrates the ability of environmental microbiological studies to impact the metabolic engineering design-build-test-learn cycle and possibly increase the economic viability of fermentative bioprocesses.
Rational, predictive metabolic engineering of organisms requires an ability to associate biological activity to the corresponding gene(s). Despite extensive advances in the 20 years since the Escherichia coli genome was published, there are still gaps in our knowledge of protein function. The substantial amount of data that has been published, such as: omics-level characterization in a myriad of conditions; genome-scale libraries; and evolution and genome sequencing, provide means of identifying and prioritizing proteins for characterization. This review describes the scale of this knowledge gap, demonstrates the benefit of addressing the knowledge gap, and demonstrates the availability of interesting candidates for characterization.
Construction of microbial biocatalysts for the production of biorenewables at economically viable yields and titers is frequently hampered by product toxicity. Membrane damage is often deemed as the principal mechanism of this toxicity, particularly in regards to decreased membrane integrity. Previous studies have attempted to engineer the membrane with the goal of increasing membrane integrity. However, most of these works focused on engineering of phospholipids and efforts to identify membrane proteins that can be targeted to improve fatty acid production have been unsuccessful.
Economically competitive microbial production of biorenewable fuels and chemicals is often impeded by toxicity of the product to the microbe. Membrane damage is often identified as a major mechanism of this toxicity. Prior efforts to strengthen the microbial membrane by changing the phospholipid distribution have largely focused on the fatty acid tails. Herein, a novel strategy of phospholipid head engineering is demonstrated in Escherichia coli. Specifically, increasing the expression of phosphatidylserine synthase (+pssA) was found to significantly increase both the tolerance and production of octanoic acid, a representative membrane-damaging solvent. Tolerance of other industrially-relevant inhibitors, such as furfural, acetate, toluene, ethanol and low pH was also increased. In addition to the increase in the relative abundance of the phosphoethanolamine (PE) head group in the +pssA strain, there were also changes in the fatty acid tail composition, resulting in an increase in average length, percent unsaturation and decreased abundance of cyclic rings. This +pssA strain had significant changes in: membrane integrity, surface potential, electrochemical potential and hydrophobicity; sensitivity to intracellular acidification; and distribution of the phospholipid tails, including an increase in average length and percent unsaturation and decreased abundance of cyclic rings. Molecular dynamics simulations demonstrated that the +PE membrane had increased resistance to penetration of ethanol into the hydrophobic core and also the membrane thickness. Further hybrid models in which only the head group distribution or fatty acid tail distribution was altered showed that the increase in PE content is responsible for the increase in bilayer thickness, but the increased hydrophobic core thickness is due to altered distribution of both the head groups and fatty acid tails. This work demonstrates the importance of consideration of the membrane head groups, as well as a modeling approach, in membrane engineering efforts.
Lignocellulosic biomass is an appealing feedstock for the production of biorenewable fuels and chemicals, and thermochemical processing is a promising method for depolymerizing it into sugars. However, trace compounds in this pyrolytic sugar syrup are inhibitory to microbial biocatalysts. This study demonstrates that hydrophobic inhibitors damage the cell membrane of ethanologenic Escherichia coli KO11+lgk. Adaptive evolution was employed to identify design strategies for improving pyrolytic sugar tolerance and utilization. Characterization of the resulting evolved strain indicates that increased resistance to the membrane-damaging effects of the pyrolytic sugars can be attributed to a glutamine to leucine mutation at position 29 of carbon storage regulator CsrA. This single amino acid change is sufficient for decreasing EPS protein production and increasing membrane integrity when exposed to pyrolytic sugars.
Understanding the genetic factors that govern microbe-sediment interactions in aquatic environments is important for water quality management and reduction of waterborne disease outbreaks. Although chemical properties of bacteria have been identified that contribute to initiation of attachment, the outer membrane proteins that contribute to these chemical properties still remain unclear. In this study we explored the attachment of 78 Escherichia coli environmental isolates to corn stover, a representative agricultural residue. Outer membrane proteome analysis led to the observation of amino acid variations, some of which had not been previously described, in outer membrane protein A (OmpA) at 10 distinct locations, including each of the four extracellular loops, three of the eight transmembrane segments, the proline-rich linker and the dimerization domain. Some of the polymorphisms within loops 1, 2, and 3 were found to significantly co-occur. Grouping of sequences according to the outer loop polymorphisms revealed five distinct patterns that each occur in at least 5% of our isolates. The two most common patterns, I and II, are encoded by 33.3 and 20.5% of these isolates and differ at each of the four loops. Statistically significant differences in attachment to corn stover were observed among isolates expressing different versions of OmpA and when different versions of OmpA were expressed in the same genetic background. Most notable was the increased corn stover attachment associated with a loop 3 sequence of SNFDGKN relative to the standard SNVYGKN sequence. These results provide further insight into the allelic variation of OmpA and implicate OmpA in contributing to attachment to corn stover.
Lignin is a substantial component of lignocellulosic biomass but is under-utilized relative to the cellulose and hemicellulose components. Historically, lignin has been burned as a source of process heat, but this heat is usually in excess of the process energy demands. Current models indicate that development of an economically competitive biorefinery system requires adding value to lignin beyond process heat. This addition of value, also known as lignin valorization, requires economically viable processes for separating the lignin from the other biomass components, depolymerizing the lignin into monomeric subunits, and then upgrading these monomers to a value-added product. The fact that lignin’s biological role is to provide biomass with structural integrity means that this heteropolymer can be difficult to depolymerize. However, there are chemical and biological routes to upgrade lignin from its native form to compounds of industrial value. Here we review the historical background and current technology of (thermo) chemical depolymerization of lignin; the natural ability of microbial enzymes and pathways to utilize lignin, the current prospecting work to find novel microbial routes to lignin degradation, and some applications of these microbial enzymes and pathways; and the current chemical and biological technologies to upgrade lignin-derived monomers.
Broad-spectrum antibiotics are often administered to swine, contributing to the occurrence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in their manure. During land application, the bacteria in swine manure preferentially attach to particles in the soil, affecting their transport in overland flow. However, a quantitative understanding of these attachment mechanisms is lacking, and their relationship to antibiotic resistance is unknown. The objective of this study is to examine the relationships between antibiotic resistance and attachment to very fine silica sand in Escherichia coli collected from swine manure. A total of 556 isolates were collected from six farms, two organic and four conventional (antibiotics fed prophylactically). Antibiotic resistance was quantified using 13 antibiotics at three minimum inhibitory concentrations: resistant, intermediate, and susceptible. Of the 556 isolates used in the antibiotic resistance assays, 491 were subjected to an attachment assay. Results show that E. coli isolates from conventional systems were significantly more resistant to amoxicillin, ampicillin, chlortetracycline, erythromycin, kanamycin, neomycin, streptomycin, tetracycline, and tylosin (P < 0.001). Results also indicate that E. coli isolated from conventional systems attached to very fine silica sand at significantly higher levels than those from organic systems (P < 0.001). Statistical analysis showed that a significant relationship did not exist between antibiotic resistance levels and attachment in E. coli from conventional systems but did for organic systems (P < 0.001). Better quantification of these relationships is critical to understanding the behavior of E. coli in the environment and preventing exposure of human populations to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Fermentative production of styrene from glucose has been previously demonstrated in Escherichia coli. Here, we demonstrate the production of styrene from the sugars derived from lignocellulosic biomass depolymerized by fast pyrolysis. A previously engineered styrene-producing strain was further engineered for utilization of the anhydrosugar levoglucosan via expression of levoglucosan kinase. The resulting strain produced 240 ± 3 mg L−1 styrene from pure levoglucosan, similar to the 251 ± 3 mg L−1 produced from glucose. When provided at a concentration of 5 g L−1, pyrolytic sugars supported styrene production at titers similar to those from pure sugars, demonstrating the feasibility of producing this important industrial chemical from biomass-derived sugars. However, the toxicity of contaminant compounds in the biomass-derived sugars and styrene itself limit further gains in production. Styrene toxicity is generally believed to be due to membrane damage. Contrary to this prevailing wisdom, our quantitative assessment during challenge with up to 200 mg L−1 of exogenously provided styrene showed little change in membrane integrity; membrane disruption was observed only during styrene production. Membrane fluidity was also quantified during styrene production, but no changes were observed relative to the non-producing control strain. This observation that styrene production is much more damaging to the membrane integrity than challenge with exogenously supplied styrene provides insight into the mechanism of styrene toxicity and emphasizes the importance of verifying proposed toxicity mechanisms during production instead of relying upon results obtained during exogenous challenge.
Constructing microbial biocatalysts that produce biorenewables at economically viable yields and titers is often hampered by product toxicity. For production of short chain fatty acids, membrane damage is considered the primary mechanism of toxicity, particularly in regards to membrane integrity. Previous engineering efforts in Escherichia coli to increase membrane integrity, with the goal of increasing fatty acid tolerance and production, have had mixed results. Herein, a novel approach was used to reconstruct the E. colimembrane by enabling production of a novel membrane component. Specifically, trans unsaturated fatty acids (TUFA) were produced and incorporated into the membrane of E. coli MG1655 by expression of cis-trans isomerase (Cti) from Pseudomonas aeruginosa. While the engineered strain was found to have no increase in membrane integrity, a significant decrease in membrane fluidity was observed, meaning that membrane polarization and rigidity were increased by TUFA incorporation. As a result, tolerance to exogenously added octanoic acid and production of octanoic acid were both increased relative to the wild-type strain. This membrane engineering strategy to improve octanoic acid tolerance was found to require fine-tuning of TUFA abundance. Besides improving tolerance and production of carboxylic acids, TUFA production also enabled increased tolerance in E. coli to other bio-products, e.g. alcohols, organic acids, aromatic compounds, a variety of adverse industrial conditions, e.g. low pH, high temperature, and also elevated styrene production, another versatile bio-chemical product. TUFA permitted enhanced growth due to alleviation of bio–product toxicity, demonstrating the general effectiveness of this membrane engineering strategy towards improving strain robustness.
Approximately 100 million tons of anhydrosugars, such as levoglucosan and cellobiosan, are produced through biomass burning every year. These sugars are also produced through fast pyrolysis, the controlled thermal depolymerization of biomass. While the microbial pathways associated with levoglucosan utilization have been characterized, there is little known about cellobiosan utilization. Here we describe the isolation and characterization of six cellobiosan-utilizing microbes from soil samples. Each of these organisms is capable of using both cellobiosan and levoglucosan as sole carbon source, though both minimal and rich media cellobiosan supported significantly higher biomass production than levoglucosan. Ribosomal sequencing was used to identify the closest reported match for these organisms: Sphingobacterium multivorum, Acinetobacter oleivorans JC3-1, Enterobacter sp SJZ-6, and Microbacterium sps FXJ8.207 and 203 and a fungal species Cryptococcus sp. The commercially-acquired Enterobacter cloacae DSM 16657 showed growth on levoglucosan and cellobiosan, supporting our isolate identification. Analysis of an existing database of 16S rRNA amplicons from Iowa soil samples confirmed the representation of our five bacterial isolates and four previously-reported levoglucosan-utilizing bacterial isolates in other soil samples and provided insight into their population distributions. Phylogenetic analysis of the 16S rRNA and 18S rRNA of strains previously reported to utilize levoglucosan and our newfound isolates showed that the organisms isolated in this study are distinct from previously described anhydrosugar-utilizing microbial species.
The anhydrosugar levoglucosan (1,6‐anhydro‐β‐D‐glucopyranose) and other structurally related sugars such as cellobiosan represent a vastly untapped resource for cellulose‐based production of chemicals and fuels. These carbohydrates exhibit a cyclic 1,6‐anhydro ring structure in addition to the canonical pyranose ring of six‐membered carbohydrates containing five carbons and one oxygen atom (Figure 1). Anhydrosugars are produced naturally through biomass burning. It has been estimated that approximately 9 billion tons of biomass are burned every year 1. While carbon dioxide is obviously the most abundant component of the combustion product, other compounds, such as anhydrosugars, are also present. One study concluded that anhydrosugars accounted for 2.4% (by mass) of the organic carbon in wildfire smoke 2 and it has been estimated that burning of extratropical forest material produces almost three times as much levoglucosan as burning of grasslands or agricultural residues 1. These estimates suggest that approximately 10 – 100 million tons of anhydrosugars are produced from biomass every year. Other anhydrosugars, such as cellobiosan, mannosan, galactosan, levogalactosan, and levomannosan have not been as extensively characterized in wildfire smoke, but have been detected in a variety of aerosol and soil samples 3–6. Aerosolized anhydrosugars can be degraded via radical activity 7, 8 but can also be transported to the soil by rainwater 9. Once deposited into the soil, the anhydrosugars are subject to microbial utilization 10. This cycle of anhydrosugar production by biomass burning, transport from the atmosphere to the soil via rainwater and microbial consumption is an undercharacterized component of the global carbon cycle.
The most abundant carbohydrate product of cellulosic biomass pyrolysis is the anhydrosugar levoglucosan (1,6-anhydro-β-D-glucopyranose), which can be converted to glucose-6-phosphate (G6P) by levoglucosan kinase (LGK). In addition to the canonical kinase phosphotransfer reaction, the conversion requires cleavage of the 1,6-anhydro ring to allow ATP-dependent phosphorylation of the sugar O6 atom. Using X-ray crystallography we show that LGK binds two magnesium ions in the active site that are additionally coordinated with the nucleotide and water molecules to result in ideal octahedral coordination. To further verify the metal binding sites, we co-crystallized LGK in the presence of manganese instead of magnesium and solved the structure de novo using the anomalous signal from four manganese atoms in the dimeric structure. The first metal is required for catalysis while our work suggests the second is either required or significantly promotes the catalytic rate. Although the enzyme binds its sugar substrate in a similar orientation to the structurally related AnmK, it forms markedly fewer bonding interactions with the substrate. In this orientation, the sugar is in an optimal position to couple phosphorylation with ring cleavage. We also observed a second alternate binding orientation for levoglucosan, and in these structures ADP was found to bind with lower affinity. These combined observations provide an explanation for the high Km of LGK for levoglucosan. Greater knowledge of the factors that contribute to the catalytic efficiency of LGK can be used to improve applications of this enzyme for levoglucosan-derived biofuel production.
Systems metabolic engineering has made the renewable production of industrial chemicals a feasible alternative to modern operations. One major example of a renewable process is the production of carboxylic acids, such as octanoic acid (C8), from Escherichia coli, engineered to express thioesterase enzymes. C8, however, is toxic to E. coli above a certain concentration, which limits the final titer. 13C metabolic flux analysis of E. coli was performed for both C8 stress and control conditions using NMR2Flux with isotopomer balancing. A mixture of labeled and unlabeled glucose was used as the sole carbon source for bacterial growth for 13C flux analysis. By comparing the metabolic flux maps of the control condition and C8 stress condition, pathways that were altered under the stress condition were identified. C8 stress was found to reduce carbon flux in several pathways: the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle, the CO2 production, and the pyruvate dehydrogenase pathway. Meanwhile, a few pathways became more active: the pyruvate oxidative pathway, and the extracellular acetate production. These results were statistically significant for three biological replicates between the control condition and C8 stress. As a working hypothesis, the following causes are proposed to be the main causes for growth inhibition and flux alteration for a cell under stress: membrane disruption, low activity of electron transport chain, and the activation of the pyruvate dehydrogenase regulator (PdhR).
Carboxylic acids are an attractive biorenewable chemical, but as with many biorenewables, their toxicity to microbial biocatalysts limits their fermentative production. While it is generally accepted that membrane damage is the main mechanism of fatty acid toxicity, previous metabolic engineering efforts that increased membrane integrity did not enable increased carboxylic acid production. Here we used an evolutionary approach to improve tolerance to exogenous octanoic acid, with the goal of learning design strategies from this evolved strain. This evolution of an Escherichia coli MG1655 derivative at neutral pH in minimal media produced a strain with increased tolerance not only to octanoic acid, but also to hexanoic acid, decanoic acid, n-butanol and isobutanol. This evolved strain also produced carboxylic acids at a 5-fold higher titer than its parent strain when expressing the Anaerococcus tetradius thioesterase. While it has been previously suggested that intracellular acidificationmay contribute to carboxylic acid toxicity, we saw no evidence that the evolved strain has increased resistance to this acidification. Characterization of the evolved strain membrane showed that it had significantly altered membrane polarization (fluidity), integrity (leakage) and composition relative to its parent. The changes in membrane composition included a significant increase in average lipid length in a variety of growth conditions, including 30 °C, 42 °C, carboxylic acid challenge and ethanol challenge. The evolved strain has a more dynamic membrane composition, showing both a larger number of significant changes and larger fold changes in the relative abundance of membrane lipids. These results highlight the importance of the cell membrane in increasing microbial tolerance and production of biorenewable fuels and chemicals.
Effective modelling of the fate and transport of water‐borne pathogens is needed to support federally required pollution‐reduction plans, for water quality improvement planning, and to protect public health. Lack of understanding of microbial–particle interactions in water bodies has sometimes led to the assumption that bacteria move in surface waters not associated with suspended mineral and organic particles, despite a growing body of evidence suggesting otherwise. Limited information exists regarding the factors driving interactions between micro‐organisms and particles in surface waters. This review discusses cellular, particle and environmental factors potentially influencing interactions and in‐stream transport. Bacterial attachment in the aquatic environment can be influenced by properties of the cell such as genetic predisposition and physiological state, surface structures such as flagella and fimbriae, the hydrophobicity and electrostatic charge of the cell surface, and the presence of outer‐membrane proteins and extracellular polymeric substances. The mechanisms and degree of attachment are also affected by characteristics of mineral and organic particles including the size, surface area, charge and hydrophobicity. Environmental conditions such as the solution chemistry and temperature are also known to play an important role. Just as the size and surface of chemical particles can be highly variable, bacterial attachment mechanisms are also diverse.
Acetic acid is a weak organic acid exerting a toxic effect to most microorganisms at concentrations as low as 0.5 wt%. This toxic effect results mostly from acetic acid dissociation inside microbial cells, causing a decrease of intracellular pH and metabolic disturbance by the anion, among other deleterious effects. These microbial inhibition mechanisms enable acetic acid to be used as a preservative, although its usefulness is limited by the emergence of highly tolerant spoilage strains. Several biotechnological processes are also inhibited by the accumulation of acetic acid in the growth medium including production of bioethanol from lignocellulosics, wine making, and microbe-based production of acetic acid itself. To design better preservation strategies based on acetic acid and to improve the robustness of industrial biotechnological processes limited by this acid’s toxicity, it is essential to deepen the understanding of the underlying toxicity mechanisms. In this sense, adaptive responses that improve tolerance to acetic acid have been well studied in Escherichia coli and Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Strains highly tolerant to acetic acid, either isolated from natural environments or specifically engineered for this effect, represent a unique reservoir of information that could increase our understanding of acetic acid tolerance and contribute to the design of additional tolerance mechanisms. In this article, the mechanisms underlying the acetic acid tolerance exhibited by several bacterial strains are reviewed, with emphasis on the knowledge gathered in acetic acid bacteria and E. coli. A comparison of how these bacterial adaptive responses to acetic acid stress fit to those described in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae is also performed. A systematic comparison of the similarities and dissimilarities of the ways by which different microbial systems surpass the deleterious effects of acetic acid toxicity has not been performed so far, although such exchange of knowledge can open the door to the design of novel approaches aiming the development of acetic acid-tolerant strains with increased industrial robustness in a synthetic biology perspective.
Thermochemical–biological hybrid processing uses thermochemical decomposition of lignocellulosic biomass to produce a variety of intermediate compounds that can be converted into fuels and chemicals through microbial fermentation. It represents a unique opportunity for biomass conversion as it mitigates some of the deficiencies of conventional biochemical (pretreatment–hydrolysis–fermentation) and thermochemical (pyrolysis or gasification) processing. Thermochemical–biological hybrid processing includes two pathways: (i) pyrolysis/pyrolytic substrate fermentation, and (ii) gasification/syngas fermentation. This paper provides a comprehensive review of these two hybrid processing pathways, including the characteristics of fermentative substrates produced in the thermochemical stage and microbial utilization of these compounds in the fermentation stage. The current challenges of these two biomass conversion pathways include toxicity of the crude pyrolytic substrates, the inhibition of raw syngas contaminants, and the mass-transfer limitations in syngas fermentation. Possible approaches for mitigating substrate toxicities are discussed. The review also provides a summary of the current efforts to commercialize hybrid processing.
Carboxylic acids are an attractive biorenewable chemical. Enormous progress has been made in engineering microbes for production of these compounds though titers remain lower than desired. Here we used transcriptome analysis of Escherichia coli during exogenous challenge with octanoic acid (C8) at pH 7.0 to probe mechanisms of toxicity. This analysis highlights the intracellular acidification and membrane damage caused by C8 challenge. Network component analysis identified transcription factors with altered activity including GadE, the activator of the glutamate-dependent acid resistance system (AR2) and Lrp, the amino acid biosynthesis regulator. The intracellular acidification was quantified during exogenous challenge, but was not observed in a carboxylic acid producing strain, though this may be due to lower titers than those used in our exogenous challenge studies. We developed a framework for predicting the proton motive force during adaptation to strong inorganic acids and carboxylic acids. This model predicts that inorganic acid challenge is mitigated by cation accumulation, but that carboxylic acid challenge inverts the proton motive force and requires anion accumulation. Utilization of native acid resistance systems was not useful in terms of supporting growth or alleviating intracellular acidification. AR2 was found to be non-functional, possibly due to membrane damage. We proposed that interaction of Lrp and C8 resulted in repression of amino acid biosynthesis. However, this hypothesis was not supported by perturbation of lrp expression or amino acid supplementation. E. coli strains were also engineered for altered cyclopropane fatty acid content in the membrane, which had a dramatic effect on membrane properties, though C8 tolerance was not increased. We conclude that achieving higher production titers requires circumventing the membrane damage. As higher titers are achieved, acidification may become problematic.
Styrene is an important commodity chemical used in polymers and resins, and is typically produced from the petrochemical feedstocks benzene and ethylene. Styrene has recently been produced biosynthetically for the first time using engineered Escherichia coli, and this bio-based route may represent a lower energy and renewable alternative to petroleum-derived styrene. However, the economics of such an approach has not yet been investigated. Using an early-stage technoeconomic evaluation tool, a preliminary economic analysis of bio-based styrene from C6-sugar feedstock has been conducted. Owing to styrene’s limited water solubility, it was assumed that the resulting fermentation broth would spontaneously form two immiscible liquid phases that could subsequently be decanted. Assuming current C6 sugar prices and industrially achievable biokinetic parameter values (e.g., product yield, specific growth rate), commercial-scale bio-based styrene has a minimum estimated selling price (MESP) of 1.90 USD kg−1 which is in the range of current styrene prices. A Monte Carlo analysis revealed a potentially large (0.45 USD kg−1) standard deviation in the MESP, while a sensitivity analysis showed feedstock price and overall yield as primary drivers of MESP.
A standard procedure does not exist to distinguish between attached and unattached micro‐organisms. In this study, we compared two methods to quantify between Escherichia coli attached to clay particles and E. coli freely suspended in solution: flow cytometry (attachment assay and viability assay) and settling (or centrifugation followed by settling).
Methods were tested using three environmental strains collected from swine facilities (A, B and C) and one purchased modified pathogenic strain (ATCC 43888); four clay particles: Hectorite, Kaolinite, Ca‐Montmorillonite, Montmorillonite K‐10; and a range of surface area ratios (particle surface area to E. coli surface area). When comparing the two methods, the per cent attached obtained from the flow cytometry was lower, but not significantly different from the per cent attached obtained from the settling method for all conditions except when the particle was Hectorite or Montmorillonite K‐10; when the strain was C; and when the surface area ratio was below 100. Differences between the methods are likely because traditional culture‐based methods cannot detect the viable but nonculturable (VBNC) population, whereas flow cytometry can detect the fraction of VBNC with intact membranes.
Carboxylic acids are an attractive biorenewable chemical. However, like many other fermentatively produced compounds, they are inhibitory to the biocatalyst. An understanding of the mechanism of toxicity can aid in mitigating this problem. Here, we show that hexanoic and octanoic acids are completely inhibitory to Escherichia coli MG1655 in minimal medium at a concentration of 40 mM, while decanoic acid was inhibitory at 20 mM. This growth inhibition is pH-dependent and is accompanied by a significant change in the fluorescence polarization (fluidity) and integrity. This inhibition and sensitivity to membrane fluidization, but not to damage of membrane integrity, can be at least partially mitigated during short-term adaptation to octanoic acid. This short-term adaptation was accompanied by a change in membrane lipid composition and a decrease in cell surface hydrophobicity. Specifically, the saturated/unsaturated lipid ratio decreased and the average lipid length increased. A fatty acid-producing strain exhibited an increase in membrane leakage as the product titer increased, but no change in membrane fluidity. These results highlight the importance of the cell membrane as a target for future metabolic engineering efforts for enabling resistance and tolerance of desirable biorenewable compounds, such as carboxylic acids. Knowledge of these effects can help in the engineering of robust biocatalysts for biorenewable chemicals production.