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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Zymomonas diversity and potential for biofuel production



Zymomonas mobilis is an aerotolerant α-proteobacterium, which has been genetically engineered for industrial purposes for decades. However, a comprehensive comparison of existing strains on the genomic level in conjunction with phenotype analysis has yet to be carried out. We here performed whole-genome comparison of 17 strains including nine that were sequenced in this study. We then compared 15 available Zymomonas strains for their natural abilities to perform under conditions relevant to biofuel synthesis. We tested their growth in anaerobic rich media, as well as growth, ethanol production and xylose utilization in lignocellulosic hydrolysate. We additionally compared their tolerance to isobutanol, flocculation characteristics, and ability to uptake foreign DNA by electroporation and conjugation.


Using clustering based on 99% average nucleotide identity (ANI), we classified 12 strains into four clusters based on sequence similarity, while five strains did not cluster with any other strain. Strains belonging to the same 99% ANI cluster showed similar performance while significant variation was observed between the clusters. Overall, conjugation and electroporation efficiencies were poor across all strains, which was consistent with our finding of coding potential for several DNA defense mechanisms, such as CRISPR and restriction-modification systems, across all genomes. We found that strain ATCC31821 (ZM4) had a more diverse plasmid profile than other strains, possibly leading to the unique phenotypes observed for this strain. ZM4 also showed the highest growth of any strain in both laboratory media and lignocellulosic hydrolysate and was among the top 3 strains for isobutanol tolerance and electroporation and conjugation efficiency.


Our findings suggest that strain ZM4 has a unique combination of genetic and phenotypic traits that are beneficial for biofuel production and propose investing future efforts in further engineering of ZM4 for industrial purposes rather than exploring new Zymomonas isolates.

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