Production of (S)-2-aminobutyric acid and (S)-2-aminobutanol in Saccharomyces cerevisiae

Microb Cell Fact. 2017 Mar 23;16(1):51. doi: 10.1186/s12934-017-0667-z.


Background: Saccharomyces cerevisiae (baker's yeast) has great potential as a whole-cell biocatalyst for multistep synthesis of various organic molecules. To date, however, few examples exist in the literature of the successful biosynthetic production of chemical compounds, in yeast, that do not exist in nature. Considering that more than 30% of all drugs on the market are purely chemical compounds, often produced by harsh synthetic chemistry or with very low yields, novel and environmentally sound production routes are highly desirable. Here, we explore the biosynthetic production of enantiomeric precursors of the anti-tuberculosis and anti-epilepsy drugs ethambutol, brivaracetam, and levetiracetam. To this end, we have generated heterologous biosynthetic pathways leading to the production of (S)-2-aminobutyric acid (ABA) and (S)-2-aminobutanol in baker's yeast.

Results: We first designed a two-step heterologous pathway, starting with the endogenous amino acid L-threonine and leading to the production of enantiopure (S)-2-aminobutyric acid. The combination of Bacillus subtilis threonine deaminase and a mutated Escherichia coli glutamate dehydrogenase resulted in the intracellular accumulation of 0.40 mg/L of (S)-2-aminobutyric acid. The combination of a threonine deaminase from Solanum lycopersicum (tomato) with two copies of mutated glutamate dehydrogenase from E. coli resulted in the accumulation of comparable amounts of (S)-2-aminobutyric acid. Additional L-threonine feeding elevated (S)-2-aminobutyric acid production to more than 1.70 mg/L. Removing feedback inhibition of aspartate kinase HOM3, an enzyme involved in threonine biosynthesis in yeast, elevated (S)-2-aminobutyric acid biosynthesis to above 0.49 mg/L in cultures not receiving additional L-threonine. We ultimately extended the pathway from (S)-2-aminobutyric acid to (S)-2-aminobutanol by introducing two reductases and a phosphopantetheinyl transferase. The engineered strains produced up to 1.10 mg/L (S)-2-aminobutanol.

Conclusions: Our results demonstrate the biosynthesis of (S)-2-aminobutyric acid and (S)-2-aminobutanol in yeast. To our knowledge this is the first time that the purely synthetic compound (S)-2-aminobutanol has been produced in vivo. This work paves the way to greener and more sustainable production of chemical entities hitherto inaccessible to synthetic biology.

Keywords: (S)-2-Aminobutanol; (S)-2-Aminobutyric acid; 2-Ketobutyric acid; Carboxylic acid reductase; Ethambutol; L-Homoalanine; L-Threonine; Metabolic engineering.

MeSH terms

  • Aminobutyrates / chemistry*
  • Aminobutyrates / metabolism
  • Antitubercular Agents / chemistry
  • Biosynthetic Pathways / genetics*
  • Butanols / metabolism*
  • Escherichia coli / chemistry
  • Escherichia coli / cytology
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism
  • Ethambutol / chemistry
  • Glutamate Dehydrogenase / genetics
  • Glutamate Dehydrogenase / metabolism
  • Lycopersicon esculentum / genetics
  • Metabolic Engineering / methods
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / chemistry
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / genetics*
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / metabolism*
  • Threonine / metabolism
  • Threonine Dehydratase / genetics
  • Threonine Dehydratase / metabolism


  • Aminobutyrates
  • Antitubercular Agents
  • Butanols
  • Threonine
  • alpha-aminobutyric acid
  • Ethambutol
  • Glutamate Dehydrogenase
  • Threonine Dehydratase