Background: Terpenoids constitute a large family of natural products, attracting commercial interest for a variety of uses as flavours, fragrances, drugs and alternative fuels. Saccharomyces cerevisiae offers a versatile cell factory, as the precursors of terpenoid biosynthesis are naturally synthesized by the sterol biosynthetic pathway.
Results: S. cerevisiae wild type yeast cells, selected for their capacity to produce high sterol levels were targeted for improvement aiming to increase production. Recyclable integration cassettes were developed which enable the unlimited sequential integration of desirable genetic elements (promoters, genes, termination sequence) at any desired locus in the yeast genome. The approach was applied on the yeast sterol biosynthetic pathway genes HMG2, ERG20 and IDI1 resulting in several-fold increase in plant monoterpene and sesquiterpene production. The improved strains were robust and could sustain high terpenoid production levels for an extended period. Simultaneous plasmid-driven co-expression of IDI1 and the HMG2 (K6R) variant, in the improved strain background, maximized monoterpene production levels. Expression of two terpene synthase enzymes from the sage species Salvia fruticosa and S. pomifera (SfCinS1, SpP330) in the modified yeast cells identified a range of terpenoids which are also present in the plant essential oils. Co-expression of the putative interacting protein HSP90 with cineole synthase 1 (SfCinS1) also improved production levels, pointing to an additional means to improve production.
Conclusions: Using the developed molecular tools, new yeast strains were generated with increased capacity to produce plant terpenoids. The approach taken and the durability of the strains allow successive rounds of improvement to maximize yields.