The extracellular expression of recombinant proteins using laboratory strains of Escherichia coli is now routinely achieved using naturally secreted substrates, such as YebF or the osmotically inducible protein Y (OsmY), as carrier molecules. However, secretion efficiency through these pathways needs to be improved for most synthetic biology and metabolic engineering applications. To address this challenge, we developed a generalizable survival-based selection strategy that effectively couples extracellular protein secretion to antibiotic resistance and enables facile isolation of rare mutants from very large populations (i.e., 1010-12 clones) based simply on cell growth. Using this strategy in the context of the YebF pathway, a comprehensive library of E. coli single-gene knockout mutants was screened and several gain-of-function mutations were isolated that increased the efficiency of extracellular expression without compromising the integrity of the outer membrane. We anticipate that this user-friendly strategy could be leveraged to better understand the YebF pathway and other secretory mechanisms-enabling the exploration of protein secretion in pathogenesis as well as the creation of designer E. coli strains with greatly expanded secretomes-all without the need for expensive exogenous reagents, assay instruments, or robotic automation.
Keywords: bacterial expression; genetic selection; microbial cell factory; protein translocation; recombinant protein; secretion pathway engineering.