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Biotechnol Bioeng. 2004 Aug 20;87(4):485-94.

Growth-rate recovery of Escherichia coli cultures carrying a multicopy plasmid, by engineering of the pentose-phosphate pathway.

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  • 1Departamento de Ingeniería Celular y Biocatálisis, Instituto de Biotecnología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Av. Universidad 2001, Col. Chamilpa, C.P. 62250, Cuernavaca, Mexico.


Expression of plasmid-encoded genes in bacteria is the most common strategy for the production of specific proteins in biotechnological processes. However, the synthesis of plasmid-encoded proteins and plasmid-DNA replication often places a metabolic load (metabolic burden) into the cell's biochemical capacities that usually reduces the growth rate of the producing culture (Glick BR. Biotechnol Adv 1995;13:247-261). This metabolic burden may be related to a limited capacity of the cell to supply the extra demand of building blocks and energy required to replicate plasmid DNA and express foreign multicopy genes. Some of these required blocks are intermediaries of the pentose phosphate (PP) pathway, e.g., ribose-5-phosphate, erythrose-4-phosphate. Due to the important impact of metabolic burden on biotechnological processes, several groups have worked on developing strategies to overcome this problem, like reduction of plasmid copy number (Seo JH, Bailey JE. Biotechnol Bioeng 1985;27:1668-1674; Jones KL, Kim S, Keasling JD. Metab Eng 2000;3:328-338), chromosomal insertion of the gene which product is desired, or changing the plasmid-coded antibiotic resistance gene (Hong Y, Pasternak JJ, Glick BR. Can J Microbiol 1995;41:624-628). However, few efforts have been attempted to overcome the reduction of growth rate due to protein over-expression, by modifying central metabolic pathways (Chou C-H, Bennett GN, San KY. Biotechnol Bioeng 1994;44:952-960). We constructed a high-copy number plasmid carrying the gene for glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase, zwf, under the control of an inducible trc promoter (pTRzwf04 plasmid). By transforming a wild-type strain and inducing with IPTG, it was possible to recover growth-rate from 0.46 h(-1) (uninduced) to 0.64 h(-1) (induced). The same transformation in an Escherichia coli zwf(-), allows a growth-rate recovery from 0.43 h(-1) (uninduced) to 0.62 h(-1) (induced). We also studied this effect as part of a laboratory-scale biotechnology process: production of a recombinant insulin peptide by co-transforming E. coli JM101 strain with pTRzwf07, a low-copy-number plasmid that carries the same inducible construction as pTRzwf04, and with the pTEXP-MMRPI vector that carries a TrpLE-proinsulin hybrid gene. In this system, production of TrpLE-proinsulin strongly reduces growth rate; however, overexpression of zwf gene recovers with a growth rate from 0.1 h(-1) in the TrpLE-proinsulin induced strain, to 0.37 h(-1) when both zwf and TrpLE-proinsulin genes were induced. In this paper, we show that the engineering of the pentose phosphate pathway by modulation of the zwf gene expression level partially overcomes the possible bottleneck for the supply of building blocks and reducing power synthesized through the PP pathway, that are required for plasmid replication and plasmid-encoded protein expression.

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