Polyphosphate degradation and phosphate secretion were optimized in Escherichia coli strains overexpressing the E. coli polyphosphate kinase gene (ppk) and either the E. coli polyphosphatase gene (ppx) or the Saccharomyces cerevisiae polyphosphatase gene (scPPX1) from different inducible promoters on medium- and high-copy plasmids. The use of a host strain without functional ppk or ppx genes on the chromosome yielded the highest levels of polyphosphate, as well as the fastest degradation of polyphosphate when the gene for polyphosphatase was induced. The introduction of a hybrid metabolic pathway consisting of the E. coli ppk gene and the S. cerevisiae polyphosphatase gene resulted in lower polyphosphate concentrations than when using both the ppk and ppx genes from E. coli, and did not significantly improve the degradation rate. It was also found that the rate of polyphosphate degradation was highest when ppx was induced late in growth, most likely due to the high intracellular polyphosphate concentration. The phosphate released from polyphosphate allowed the growth of phosphate-starved cells; excess phosphate was secreted into the medium, leading to a down-regulation of the phosphate-starvation (Pho) response. The production of alkaline phosphatase, an indicator of the Pho response, can be precisely controlled by manipulating the degree of ppx induction. Copyright 1998 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.