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Tryptophan plays an important role in yeast’s tolerance to isobutanol



Isobutanol is considered a potential biofuel, thanks to its high-energy content and octane value, limited water solubility, and compatibility with gasoline. As its biosynthesis pathway is known, a microorganism, such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae, that inherently produces isobutanol, can serve as a good engineering host. Isobutanol's toxicity, however, is a major obstacle for bioproduction. This study is to understand how yeast tolerates isobutanol.


A S. cerevisiae gene-deletion library with 5006 mutants was used to screen genes related to isobutanol tolerance. Image recognition was efficiently used for high-throughput screening via colony size on solid media. In enrichment analysis of the 161 isobutanol-sensitive clones identified, more genes than expected were mapped to tryptophan biosynthesis, ubiquitination, and the pentose phosphate pathway (PPP). Interestingly, adding exogenous tryptophan enabled both tryptophan biosynthesis and PPP mutant strains to overcome the stress. In transcriptomic analysis, cluster analysis of differentially expressed genes revealed the relationship between tryptophan and isobutanol stress through some specific cellular functions, such as biosynthesis and transportation of amino acids, PPP, tryptophan metabolism, nicotinate/nicotinamide metabolism (e.g., nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide biosynthesis), and fatty acid metabolism.


The importance of tryptophan in yeast's tolerance to isobutanol was confirmed by the recovery of isobutanol tolerance in defective strains by adding exogenous tryptophan to the growth medium. Transcriptomic analysis showed that amino acid biosynthesis- and transportation-related genes in a tryptophan biosynthesis-defective host were up-regulated under conditions similar to nitrogen starvation. This may explain why ubiquitination was required for the protein turnover. PPP metabolites may serve as precursors and cofactors in tryptophan biosynthesis to enhance isobutanol tolerance. Furthermore, the tolerance mechanism may also be linked to tryptophan downstream metabolism, including the kynurenine pathway and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide biosynthesis. Both pathways are responsible for cellular redox balance and anti-oxidative ability. Our study highlights the central role of tryptophan in yeast's isobutanol tolerance and offers new clues for engineering a yeast host with strong isobutanol tolerance.

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