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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Monoterpene production by the carotenogenic yeast Rhodosporidium toruloides



Due to their high energy density and compatible physical properties, several monoterpenes have been investigated as potential renewable transportation fuels, either as blendstocks with petroleum or as drop-in replacements for use in vehicles (both heavy and light-weight) or in aviation. Sustainable microbial production of these biofuels requires the ability to utilize cheap and readily available feedstocks such as lignocellulosic biomass, which can be depolymerized into fermentable carbon sources such as glucose and xylose. However, common microbial production platforms such as the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae are not naturally capable of utilizing xylose, hence requiring extensive strain engineering and optimization to efficiently utilize lignocellulosic feedstocks. In contrast, the oleaginous red yeast Rhodosporidium toruloides is capable of efficiently metabolizing both xylose and glucose, suggesting that it may be a suitable host for the production of lignocellulosic bioproducts. In addition, R. toruloides naturally produces several carotenoids (C40 terpenoids), indicating that it may have a naturally high carbon flux through its mevalonate (MVA) pathway, providing pools of intermediates for the production of a wide range of heterologous terpene-based biofuels and bioproducts from lignocellulose.


Sixteen terpene synthases (TS) originating from plants, bacteria and fungi were evaluated for their ability to produce a total of nine different monoterpenes in R. toruloides. Eight of these TS were functional and produced several different monoterpenes, either as individual compounds or as mixtures, with 1,8-cineole, sabinene, ocimene, pinene, limonene, and carene being produced at the highest levels. The 1,8-cineole synthase HYP3 from Hypoxylon sp. E74060B produced the highest titer of 14.94 ± 1.84 mg/L 1,8-cineole in YPD medium and was selected for further optimization and fuel properties study. Production of 1,8-cineole from lignocellulose was also demonstrated in a 2L batch fermentation, and cineole production titers reached 34.6 mg/L in DMR-EH (Deacetylated, Mechanically Refined, Enzymatically Hydorlized) hydrolysate. Finally, the fuel properties of 1,8-cineole were examined, and indicate that it may be a suitable petroleum blend stock or drop-in replacement fuel for spark ignition engines.


Our results demonstrate that Rhodosporidium toruloides is a suitable microbial platform for the production of non-native monoterpenes with biofuel applications from lignocellulosic biomass.

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