Expanding ester biosynthesis in Escherichia coli

Nat Chem Biol. 2014 Apr;10(4):259-65. doi: 10.1038/nchembio.1476. Epub 2014 Mar 9.


To expand the capabilities of whole-cell biocatalysis, we have engineered Escherichia coli to produce various esters. The alcohol O-acyltransferase (ATF) class of enzyme uses acyl-CoA units for ester formation. The release of free CoA upon esterification with an alcohol provides the free energy to facilitate ester formation. The diversity of CoA molecules found in nature in combination with various alcohol biosynthetic pathways allows for the biosynthesis of a multitude of esters. Small to medium volatile esters have extensive applications in the flavor, fragrance, cosmetic, solvent, paint and coating industries. The present work enables the production of these compounds by designing several ester pathways in E. coli. The engineered pathways generated acetate esters of ethyl, propyl, isobutyl, 2-methyl-1-butyl, 3-methyl-1-butyl and 2-phenylethyl alcohols. In particular, we achieved high-level production of isobutyl acetate from glucose (17.2 g l(-1)). This strategy was expanded to realize pathways for tetradecyl acetate and several isobutyrate esters.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • 3-Methyl-2-Oxobutanoate Dehydrogenase (Lipoamide) / metabolism
  • Acetates / metabolism
  • Butanols / metabolism
  • Chromatography, Gas
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Coenzyme A / metabolism
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism*
  • Esterification
  • Esters / metabolism*
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Indicators and Reagents
  • Plasmids / genetics
  • Proteins / metabolism
  • Pseudomonas putida / metabolism
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / metabolism
  • Vibrio / metabolism


  • Acetates
  • Butanols
  • Esters
  • Indicators and Reagents
  • Proteins
  • isobutyl alcohol
  • 3-Methyl-2-Oxobutanoate Dehydrogenase (Lipoamide)
  • alcohol O-acetyltransferase
  • Glucose
  • Coenzyme A