Lignin displays a highly challenging renewable. To date, massive amounts of lignin, generated in lignocellulosic processing facilities, are for the most part merely burned due to lacking value-added alternatives. Aromatic lignin monomers of recognized relevance are in particular vanillin, and to a lesser extent vanillate, because they are accessible at high yield from softwood-lignin using industrially operated alkaline oxidative depolymerization. Here, we metabolically engineered C. glutamicum towards cis, cis-muconate (MA) production from these key aromatics. Starting from the previously created catechol-based producer C. glutamicum MA-2, systems metabolic engineering first discovered an unspecific aromatic aldehyde reductase that formed aromatic alcohols from vanillin, protocatechualdehyde, and p- hydroxybenzaldehyde, and was responsible for the conversion up to 57% of vanillin into vanillyl alcohol. The alcohol was not re-consumed by the microbe later, posing a strong drawback on the producer. The identification and subsequent elimination of the encoding fudC gene completely abolished vanillyl alcohol formation. Second, the initially weak flux through the native vanillin and vanillate metabolism was enhanced up to 2.9-fold by implementing synthetic pathway modules. Third, the most efficient protocatechuate decarboxylase AroY for conversion of the midstream pathway intermediate protocatechuate into catechol was identified out of several variants in native and codon optimized form and expressed together with the respective helper proteins. Fourth, the streamlined modules were all genomically combined which yielded the final strain MA-9. MA-9 produced bio-based MA from vanillin, vanillate, and seven structurally related aromatics at maximum selectivity. In addition, MA production from softwood-based vanillin, obtained through alkaline depolymerization, was demonstrated.
Keywords: Alkaline oxidation; AroY; Aromatic compounds; Bio-based; Caffeate; Corynebacterium glutamicum; Ferulate; FudC; Hydroxycinnamates; Lignin; Protocatechualdehyde; Protocatechuate; Softwood; Vanillate; Vanillin; Vanillyl alcohol; cis; cis-muconic acid; p-Coumarate; p-Hydroxybenzaldehyde; p-Hydroxybenzoate.
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