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Yeast. 2011 Apr;28(4):279-92. doi: 10.1002/yea.1838. Epub 2011 Jan 16.

Cloning and functional characterization of the UDP-glucosyltransferase UgtB1 involved in sophorolipid production by Candida bombicola and creation of a glucolipid-producing yeast strain.

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Laboratory of Industrial Biotechnology and Biocatalysis, Faculty of Bioscience Engineering, Ghent University, Coupure Links 653, 9000 Ghent, Belgium.


Sophorolipids produced by the non-pathogenic yeast Candida bombicola ATCC 22214 are glycolipid biosurfactants applied commercially as biodegradable and eco-friendly detergents. Their low cell toxicity, excellent wetting capability and antimicrobial activity attract the attention of high-value markets, such as the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. Although sophorolipid production yields have been increased by the optimization of fermentation parameters and feed sources, the biosynthetic pathway and genetic mechanism behind sophorolipid production still remains unclear. Here we identify a UDP-glucosyltransferase gene, UGTB1, with a key function in this economically important pathway. The protein shows sequence and structural homology to several bacterial glycosyltransferases involved in macrolide antibiotic synthesis. Deletion of UGTB1 in C. bombicola did not affect cell growth and resulted in a yeast producing glucolipids, thereby opening the route for in vivo production of these glycolipid intermediates. Activity assays on cell lysates confirmed that the identified gene is responsible for the second glucosylation step during sophorolipid production and illustrated that sophorolipid production in C. bombicola involves the stepwise action of two independent glucosyltransferases. The complete UGTB1 sequence data have been submitted to the GenBank database ( under Accession No. HM440974.

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