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Laboratory evolution of synthetic electron transport system variants reveals a larger metabolic respiratory system and its plasticity.


The bacterial respiratory electron transport system (ETS) is branched to allow condition-specific modulation of energy metabolism. There is a detailed understanding of the structural and biochemical features of respiratory enzymes; however, a holistic examination of the system and its plasticity is lacking. Here we generate four strains of Escherichia coli harboring unbranched ETS that pump 1, 2, 3, or 4 proton(s) per electron and characterized them using a combination of synergistic methods (adaptive laboratory evolution, multi-omic analyses, and computation of proteome allocation). We report that: (a) all four ETS variants evolve to a similar optimized growth rate, and (b) the laboratory evolutions generate specific rewiring of major energy-generating pathways, coupled to the ETS, to optimize ATP production capability. We thus define an Aero-Type System (ATS), which is a generalization of the aerobic bioenergetics and is a metabolic systems biology description of respiration and its inherent plasticity.

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