Background: Metabolomics is the comprehensive study of metabolites that can demonstrate the downstream effects of gene and protein regulation, arguably representing the closest correlation with phenotypic features. Hence, metabolomics-driven approach offers an effective way to facilitate strain improvement. Previously, targeted metabolomics on the 1-butanol-producing cyanobacterial strain Synechococcus elongatus BUOHSE has revealed the reduction step from butanoyl-CoA to butanal, catalyzed by CoA-acylating propionaldehyde dehydrogenase (PduP), as a rate-limiting step in the CoA-dependent pathway. Moreover, an increase in acetyl-CoA synthesis rate was also observed in this strain, by which the increased rate of release of CoA from butanoyl-CoA was used to enhance formation of acetyl-CoA to feed into the pathway.
Results: In the present study, a new strain (DC7) with an improved activity of PduP enzyme, was constructed using BUOHSE as the background strain. DC7 showed a 33% increase in 1-butanol production compared to BUOHSE. For a deeper understanding of the metabolic state of DC7, widely targeted metabolomics approach using ion-pair reversed-phase LC/MS was performed. Results showed a decreased level of butanoyl-CoA and an increased level of acetyl-CoA in DC7 compared to BUOHSE. This served as an indication that the previous bottleneck has been solved and free CoA regeneration increased upon the improvement of the PduP enzyme. In order to utilize the enhanced levels of acetyl-CoA in DC7 for 1-butanol production, overexpression of acetyl-CoA carboxylase (ACCase) in DC7 was performed by inserting the gene encoding an ACCase subunit from Yarrowia lipolytica into the aldA site. The resulting strain, named DC11, was able to reach a production titer of 418.7 mg/L in 6 days, compared to DC7 that approached a similar titer in 12 days. A maximum productivity of 117 mg/L/day was achieved between days 4 and 5 in DC11.
Conclusions: In this study, the iterative cycle of genetic modification based on insights from metabolomics successfully resulted in the highest reported 1-butanol productivity for engineered Synechococcus elongatus PCC 7942.
Keywords: Butanol; Cyanobacteria; Rate-limiting step; Strain improvement; Widely targeted metabolomics.