Background: Corynebacterium glutamicum contains the glycosylated C50 carotenoid decaprenoxanthin as yellow pigment. Starting from isopentenyl pyrophosphate, which is generated in the non-mevalonate pathway, decaprenoxanthin is synthesized via the intermediates farnesyl pyrophosphate, geranylgeranyl pyrophosphate, lycopene and flavuxanthin.
Results: Here, we showed that the genes of the carotenoid gene cluster crtE-cg0722-crtBIYeYfEb are co-transcribed and characterized defined gene deletion mutants. Gene deletion analysis revealed that crtI, crtEb, and crtYeYf, respectively, code for the only phytoene desaturase, lycopene elongase, and carotenoid C45/C50 ε-cyclase, respectively. However, the genome of C. glutamicum also encodes a second carotenoid gene cluster comprising crtB2I2-1/2 shown to be co-transcribed, as well. Ectopic expression of crtB2 could compensate for the lack of phytoene synthase CrtB in C. glutamicum ΔcrtB, thus, C. glutamicum possesses two functional phytoene synthases, namely CrtB and CrtB2. Genetic evidence for a crtI2-1/2 encoded phytoene desaturase could not be obtained since plasmid-borne expression of crtI2-1/2 did not compensate for the lack of phytoene desaturase CrtI in C. glutamicum ΔcrtI. The potential of C. glutamicum to overproduce carotenoids was estimated with lycopene as example. Deletion of the gene crtEb prevented conversion of lycopene to decaprenoxanthin and entailed accumulation of lycopene to 0.03 ± 0.01 mg/g cell dry weight (CDW). When the genes crtE, crtB and crtI for conversion of geranylgeranyl pyrophosphate to lycopene were overexpressed in C. glutamicum ΔcrtEb intensely red-pigmented cells and an 80 fold increased lycopene content of 2.4 ± 0.3 mg/g CDW were obtained.
Conclusion: C. glutamicum possesses a certain degree of redundancy in the biosynthesis of the C50 carotenoid decaprenoxanthin as it possesses two functional phytoene synthase genes. Already metabolic engineering of only the terminal reactions leading to lycopene resulted in considerable lycopene production indicating that C. glutamicum may serve as a potential host for carotenoid production.