Expression of genes encoding polyamine transporters from plasmids and polyamine supplements increased furfural tolerance (growth and ethanol production) in ethanologenic Escherichia coli LY180 (in AM1 mineral salts medium containing xylose). This represents a new approach to increase furfural tolerance and may be useful for other organisms. Microarray comparisons of two furfural-resistant mutants (EMFR9 and EMFR35) provided initial evidence for the importance of polyamine transporters. Each mutant contained a single polyamine transporter gene that was upregulated over 100-fold (microarrays) compared to that in the parent LY180, as well as a mutation that silenced the expression of yqhD. Based on these genetic changes, furfural tolerance was substantially reconstructed in the parent, LY180. Deletion of potE in EMFR9 lowered furfural tolerance to that of the parent. Deletion of potE and puuP in LY180 also decreased furfural tolerance, indicating functional importance of the native genes. Of the 8 polyamine transporters (18 genes) cloned and tested, half were beneficial for furfural tolerance (PotE, PuuP, PlaP, and PotABCD). Supplementing AM1 mineral salts medium with individual polyamines (agmatine, putrescine, and cadaverine) also increased furfural tolerance but to a smaller extent. In pH-controlled fermentations, polyamine transporter plasmids were shown to promote the metabolism of furfural and substantially reduce the time required to complete xylose fermentation. This increase in furfural tolerance is proposed to result from polyamine binding to negatively charged cellular constituents such as nucleic acids and phospholipids, providing protection from damage by furfural.
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