Background: Hydrocarbon alkanes have been recently considered as important next-generation biofuels because microbial production of alkane biofuels was demonstrated. However, the toxicity of alkanes to microbial hosts can possibly be a bottleneck for high productivity of alkane biofuels. To tackle this toxicity issue, it is essential to understand molecular mechanisms of interactions between alkanes and microbial hosts, and to harness these mechanisms to develop microbial host strains with improved tolerance against alkanes. In this study, we aimed to improve the tolerance of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a model eukaryotic host of industrial significance, to alkane biofuels by exploiting cellular mechanisms underlying alkane response.
Results: To this end, we first confirmed that nonane (C9), decane (C10), and undecane (C11) were significantly toxic and accumulated in S. cerevisiae. Transcriptome analyses suggested that C9 and C10 induced a range of cellular mechanisms such as efflux pumps, membrane modification, radical detoxification, and energy supply. Since efflux pumps could possibly aid in alkane secretion, thereby reducing the cytotoxicity, we formed the hypothesis that those induced efflux pumps could contribute to alkane export and tolerance. In support of this hypothesis, we demonstrated the roles of the efflux pumps Snq2p and Pdr5p in reducing intracellular levels of C10 and C11, as well as enhancing tolerance levels against C10 and C11. This result provided the evidence that Snq2p and Pdr5p were associated with alkane export and tolerance in S. cerevisiae.
Conclusions: Here, we investigated the cellular mechanisms of S. cerevisiae response to alkane biofuels at a systems level through transcriptome analyses. Based on these mechanisms, we identified efflux pumps involved in alkane export and tolerance in S. cerevisiae. We believe that the results here provide valuable insights into designing microbial engineering strategies to improve cellular tolerance for highly efficient alkane biofuel production.