Systematic Analysis of Metabolic Bottlenecks in the Methylerythritol 4-Phosphate (MEP) Pathway of Zymomonas mobilis

mSystems. 2023 Apr 27;8(2):e0009223. doi: 10.1128/msystems.00092-23. Epub 2023 Mar 30.


Zymomonas mobilis is an industrially relevant aerotolerant anaerobic bacterium that can convert up to 96% of consumed glucose to ethanol. This highly catabolic metabolism could be leveraged to produce isoprenoid-based bioproducts via the methylerythritol 4-phosphate (MEP) pathway, but we currently have limited knowledge concerning the metabolic constraints of this pathway in Z. mobilis. Here, we performed an initial investigation of the metabolic bottlenecks within the MEP pathway of Z. mobilis using enzyme overexpression strains and quantitative metabolomics. Our analysis revealed that 1-deoxy-d-xylulose 5-phosphate synthase (DXS) represents the first enzymatic bottleneck in the Z. mobilis MEP pathway. DXS overexpression triggered large increases in the intracellular levels of the first five MEP pathway intermediates, of which the buildup in 2-C-methyl-d-erythritol 2,4-cyclodiphosphate (MEcDP) was the most substantial. The combined overexpression of DXS, 4-hydroxy-3-methylbut-2-enyl diphosphate (HMBDP) synthase (IspG), and HMBDP reductase (IspH) mitigated the bottleneck at MEcDP and mobilized carbon to downstream MEP pathway intermediates, indicating that IspG and IspH activity become the primary pathway constraints during DXS overexpression. Finally, we overexpressed DXS with other native MEP enzymes and a heterologous isoprene synthase and showed that isoprene can be used as a carbon sink in the Z. mobilis MEP pathway. By revealing key bottlenecks within the MEP pathway of Z. mobilis, this study will aid future engineering efforts aimed at developing this bacterium for industrial isoprenoid production. IMPORTANCE Engineered microorganisms have the potential to convert renewable substrates into biofuels and valuable bioproducts, which offers an environmentally sustainable alternative to fossil-fuel-derived products. Isoprenoids are a diverse class of biologically derived compounds that have commercial applications as various commodity chemicals, including biofuels and biofuel precursor molecules. Thus, isoprenoids represent a desirable target for large-scale microbial generation. However, our ability to engineer microbes for the industrial production of isoprenoid-derived bioproducts is limited by an incomplete understanding of the bottlenecks in the biosynthetic pathway responsible for isoprenoid precursor generation. In this study, we combined genetic engineering with quantitative analyses of metabolism to examine the capabilities and constraints of the isoprenoid biosynthetic pathway in the industrially relevant microbe Zymomonas mobilis. Our integrated and systematic approach identified multiple enzymes whose overexpression in Z. mobilis results in an increased production of isoprenoid precursor molecules and mitigation of metabolic bottlenecks.

Keywords: MEP pathway; Zymomonas mobilis; isoprene; isoprenoid pathway; isoprenoid synthesis; mass spectrometry; metabolic bottleneck; metabolomics.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Base Composition
  • Biofuels
  • Phosphates / metabolism
  • Phylogeny
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / metabolism
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Terpenes / metabolism
  • Zymomonas* / genetics


  • Biofuels
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S
  • 2-C-methylerythritol 4-phosphate
  • Terpenes
  • Phosphates