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A phycocyanin·phellandrene synthase fusion enhances recombinant protein expression and β-phellandrene (monoterpene) hydrocarbons production in Synechocystis (cyanobacteria).


Cyanobacteria can be exploited as photosynthetic platforms for heterologous generation of terpene hydrocarbons with industrial applications. Transformation of Synechocystis and heterologous expression of the β-phellandrene synthase (PHLS) gene alone is necessary and sufficient to confer to Synechocystis the ability to divert intermediate terpenoid metabolites and to generate the monoterpene β-phellandrene during photosynthesis. However, terpene synthases, including the PHLS, have a slow Kcat (low Vmax) necessitating high levels of enzyme concentration to enable meaningful rates and yield of product formation. Here, a novel approach was applied to increase the PHLS protein expression alleviating limitations in the rate and yield of β-phellandrene product generation. Different PHLS fusion constructs were generated with the Synechocystis endogenous cpcB sequence, encoding for the abundant in cyanobacteria phycocyanin β-subunit, expressed under the native cpc operon promoter. In one of these constructs, the CpcB·PHLS fusion protein accumulated to levels approaching 20% of the total cellular protein, i.e., substantially higher than expressing the PHLS protein alone under the same endogenous cpc promoter. The CpcB·PHLS fusion protein retained the activity of the PHLS enzyme and catalyzed β-phellandrene synthesis, yielding an average of 3.2 mg product g(-1) dry cell weight (dcw) versus the 0.03 mg g(-1)dcw measured with low-expressing constructs, i.e., a 100-fold yield improvement. In conclusion, the terpene synthase fusion-protein approach is promising, as, in this case, it substantially increased the amount of the PHLS in cyanobacteria, and commensurately improved rates and yield of β-phellandrene hydrocarbons production in these photosynthetic microorganisms.

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