Mechanistic insights from plant heteromannan synthesis in yeast

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2019 Jan 8;116(2):522-527. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1814003116. Epub 2018 Dec 24.


Heteromannan (HM) is one of the most ancient cell wall polymers in the plant kingdom, consisting of β-(1-4)-linked backbones of glucose (Glc) and mannose (Man) units. Despite the widespread distribution of HM polysaccharides, their biosynthesis remains mechanistically unclear. HM is elongated by glycosyltransferases (GTs) from the cellulose synthase-like A (CSLA) family. MANNAN-SYNTHESIS RELATED (MSR) putative GTs have also been implicated in (gluco)mannan synthesis, but their roles have been difficult to decipher in planta and in vitro. To further characterize the products of the HM synthases and accessory proteins, we chose a synthetic biology approach to synthesize plant HM in yeast. The expression of a CSLA protein in Pichia pastoris led to the abundant production of plant HM: up to 30% of glycans in the yeast cell wall. Based on sequential chemical and enzymatic extractions, followed by detailed structural analyses, the newly produced HM polymers were unbranched and could be larger than 270 kDa. Using CSLAs from different species, we programmed yeast cells to produce an HM backbone composed exclusively of Man or also incorporating Glc. We demonstrate that specific MSR cofactors were indispensable for mannan synthase activity of a coffee CSLA or modulated a functional CSLA enzyme to produce glucomannan instead of mannan. Therefore, this powerful platform yields functional insight into the molecular machinery required for HM biosynthesis in plants.

Keywords: glycosyltransferase; mannan; plant cell wall; polysaccharide; yeast.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Coffea* / genetics
  • Coffea* / metabolism
  • Mannans* / biosynthesis
  • Mannans* / genetics
  • Pichia* / genetics
  • Pichia* / metabolism
  • Plant Proteins* / biosynthesis
  • Plant Proteins* / genetics
  • Recombinant Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Recombinant Proteins / genetics


  • Mannans
  • Plant Proteins
  • Recombinant Proteins