Metabolic Remodeling during Nitrogen Fixation in Zymomonas mobilis

mSystems. 2021 Nov 16;6(6):e0098721. doi: 10.1128/mSystems.00987-21. Online ahead of print.


Zymomonas mobilis is an ethanologenic bacterium currently being developed for production of advanced biofuels. Recent studies have shown that Z. mobilis can fix dinitrogen gas (N2) as a sole nitrogen source. During N2 fixation, Z. mobilis exhibits increased biomass-specific rates of ethanol production. In order to better understand the physiology of Z. mobilis during N2 fixation and during changes in ammonium (NH4+) availability, we performed liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS)-based targeted metabolomics and shotgun proteomics under three regimes of nitrogen availability: continuous N2 fixation, gradual NH4+ depletion, and acute NH4+ addition to N2-fixing cells. We report dynamic changes in abundance of proteins and metabolites related to nitrogen fixation, motility, ammonium assimilation, amino acid biosynthesis, nucleotide biosynthesis, isoprenoid biosynthesis, and Entner-Doudoroff (ED) glycolysis, providing insight into the regulatory mechanisms that control these processes in Z. mobilis. Our analysis identified potential physiological mechanisms that may contribute to increased specific ethanol production during N2 fixation, including decreased activity of biosynthetic pathways, increased protein abundance of alcohol dehydrogenase (ADHI), and increased thermodynamic favorability of the ED pathway. Of particular relevance to advanced biofuel production, we found that intermediates in the methylerythritol phosphate (MEP) pathway for isoprenoid biosynthesis were depleted during N2 fixation, coinciding with decreased protein abundance of deoxyxylulose 5-phosphate synthase (DXS), the first enzyme in the pathway. This implies that DXS protein abundance serves as a native control point in regulating MEP pathway activity in Z. mobilis. The results of this study will inform metabolic engineering to further develop Z. mobilis as a platform organism for biofuel production. IMPORTANCE Biofuels and bioproducts have the potential to serve as environmentally sustainable replacements for petroleum-derived fuels and commodity molecules. Advanced fuels such as higher alcohols and isoprenoids are more suitable gasoline replacements than bioethanol. Developing microbial systems to generate advanced biofuels requires metabolic engineering to reroute carbon away from ethanol and other native products and toward desired pathways, such as the MEP pathway for isoprenoid biosynthesis. However, rational engineering of microbial metabolism relies on understanding metabolic control points, in terms of both enzyme activity and thermodynamic favorability. In Z. mobilis, the factors that control glycolytic rates, ethanol production, and isoprenoid production are still not fully understood. In this study, we performed metabolomic, proteomic, and thermodynamic analysis of Z. mobilis during N2 fixation. This analysis identified key changes in metabolite levels, enzyme abundance, and glycolytic thermodynamic favorability that occurred during changes in NH4+ availability, helping to inform future efforts in metabolic engineering.

Keywords: MEP pathway; Zymomonas mobilis; biofuels; isoprenoids; metabolomics; nitrogen fixation; nitrogen metabolism; proteomics; systems biology; thermodynamics.