Widespread distribution of hmf genes in Proteobacteria reveals key enzymes for 5-hydroxymethylfurfural conversion

Comput Struct Biotechnol J. 2021 Apr 16:19:2160-2169. doi: 10.1016/j.csbj.2021.04.017. eCollection 2021.


Furans represent a class of promising chemicals, since they constitute valuable intermediates in conversion of biomass into sustainable products intended to replace petroleum-derivatives. Conversely, generation of furfural and 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) as by-products in lignocellulosic hydrolysates is undesirable due its inhibitory effect over fermentative microorganisms. Therefore, the search for furans-metabolizing bacteria has gained increasing attention since they are valuable tools to solve these challenging issues. A few bacterial species have been described at genetic level, leading to a proposed HMF pathway encoded by a set of genes termed hmf/psf, although some enzymatic functions are still elusive. In this work we performed a genomic analysis of major subunits of furoyl-CoA dehydrogenase orthologues, revealing that the furoic acid catabolic route, key intermediate in HMF biodegradation, is widespread in proteobacterial species. Additionally, presence/absence profiles of hmf/psf genes in selected proteobacterial strains suggest parallel and/or complementary roles of enzymes with previously unclear function that could be key in HMF conversion. The furans utilization pattern of selected strains harboring different hmf/psf gene sets provided additional support for bioinformatic predictions of the relevance of some enzymes. On the other hand, at least three different types of transporter systems are clustered with hmf/psf genes, whose presence is mutually exclusive, suggesting a core and parallel role in furans transport in Proteobacteria. This study expands the number of bacteria that could be recruited in biotechnological processes for furans biodetoxification and predicts a core set of genes required to establish a functional HMF pathway in heterologous hosts for metabolic engineering endeavors.

Keywords: Biodegradation; Furans; HMF; Metabolic engineering; Proteobacteria.