Resurrecting essential amino acid biosynthesis in mammalian cells

Elife. 2022 Sep 27;11:e72847. doi: 10.7554/eLife.72847.


Major genomic deletions in independent eukaryotic lineages have led to repeated ancestral loss of biosynthesis pathways for nine of the twenty canonical amino acids. While the evolutionary forces driving these polyphyletic deletion events are not well understood, the consequence is that extant metazoans are unable to produce nine essential amino acids (EAAs). Previous studies have highlighted that EAA biosynthesis tends to be more energetically costly, raising the possibility that these pathways were lost from organisms with access to abundant EAAs. It is unclear whether present-day metazoans can reaccept these pathways to resurrect biosynthetic capabilities that were lost long ago or whether evolution has rendered EAA pathways incompatible with metazoan metabolism. Here, we report progress on a large-scale synthetic genomics effort to reestablish EAA biosynthetic functionality in mammalian cells. We designed codon-optimized biosynthesis pathways based on genes mined from Escherichia coli. These pathways were de novo synthesized in 3 kilobase chunks, assembled in yeasto and genomically integrated into a Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cell line. One synthetic pathway produced valine at a sufficient level for cell viability and proliferation. 13C-tracing verified de novo biosynthesis of valine and further revealed build-up of pathway intermediate 2,3-dihydroxy-3-isovalerate. Increasing the dosage of downstream ilvD boosted pathway performance and allowed for long-term propagation of second-generation cells in valine-free medium at 3.2 days per doubling. This work demonstrates that mammalian metabolism is amenable to restoration of ancient core pathways, paving a path for genome-scale efforts to synthetically restore metabolic functions to the metazoan lineage.

Keywords: Cricetulus griseus; cell biology; essential amino acids; genetics; genomics; synthetic biology; synthetic genomics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / genetics
  • Amino Acids, Essential*
  • Animals
  • CHO Cells
  • Cricetinae
  • Cricetulus
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Genome*
  • Mammals
  • Valine


  • Amino Acids
  • Amino Acids, Essential
  • Valine