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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Designing and Engineering Methylorubrum extorquens AM1 for Itaconic Acid Production


Methylorubrum extorquens (formerly Methylobacterium extorquens) AM1 is a methylotrophic bacterium with a versatile lifestyle. Various carbon sources including acetate, succinate and methanol are utilized by M. extorquens AM1 with the latter being a promising inexpensive substrate for use in the biotechnology industry. Itaconic acid (ITA) is a high-value building block widely used in various industries. Given that no wildtype methylotrophic bacteria are able to utilize methanol to produce ITA, we tested the potential of M. extorquens AM1 as an engineered host for this purpose. In this study, we successfully engineered M. extorquens AM1 to express a heterologous codon-optimized gene encoding cis-aconitic acid decarboxylase. The engineered strain produced ITA using acetate, succinate and methanol as the carbon feedstock. The highest ITA titer in batch culture with methanol as the carbon source was 31.6 ± 5.5 mg/L, while the titer and productivity were 5.4 ± 0.2 mg/L and 0.056 ± 0.002 mg/L/h, respectively, in a scaled-up fed-batch bioreactor under 60% dissolved oxygen saturation. We attempted to enhance the carbon flux toward ITA production by impeding poly-β-hydroxybutyrate accumulation, which is used as carbon and energy storage, via mutation of the regulator gene phaR. Unexpectedly, ITA production by the phaR mutant strain was not higher even though poly-β-hydroxybutyrate concentration was lower. Genome-wide transcriptomic analysis revealed that phaR mutation in the ITA-producing strain led to complex rewiring of gene transcription, which might result in a reduced carbon flux toward ITA production. Besides poly-β-hydroxybutyrate metabolism, we found evidence that PhaR might regulate the transcription of many other genes including those encoding other regulatory proteins, methanol dehydrogenases, formate dehydrogenases, malate:quinone oxidoreductase, and those synthesizing pyrroloquinoline quinone and thiamine co-factors. Overall, M. extorquens AM1 was successfully engineered to produce ITA using acetate, succinate and methanol as feedstock, further supporting this bacterium as a feasible host for use in the biotechnology industry. This study showed that PhaR could have a broader regulatory role than previously anticipated, and increased our knowledge of this regulator and its influence on the physiology of M. extorquens AM1.

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