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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2011 Jul;77(14):4894-904. doi: 10.1128/AEM.00382-11. Epub 2011 Jun 3.

Redesigning Escherichia coli metabolism for anaerobic production of isobutanol.

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Energy Biosciences Institute and Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.


Fermentation enables the production of reduced metabolites, such as the biofuels ethanol and butanol, from fermentable sugars. This work demonstrates a general approach for designing and constructing a production host that uses a heterologous pathway as an obligately fermentative pathway to produce reduced metabolites, specifically, the biofuel isobutanol. Elementary mode analysis was applied to design an Escherichia coli strain optimized for isobutanol production under strictly anaerobic conditions. The central metabolism of E. coli was decomposed into 38,219 functional, unique, and elementary modes (EMs). The model predictions revealed that during anaerobic growth E. coli cannot produce isobutanol as the sole fermentative product. By deleting 7 chromosomal genes, the total 38,219 EMs were constrained to 12 EMs, 6 of which can produce high yields of isobutanol in a range from 0.29 to 0.41 g isobutanol/g glucose under anaerobic conditions. The remaining 6 EMs rely primarily on the pyruvate dehydrogenase enzyme complex (PDHC) and are typically inhibited under anaerobic conditions. The redesigned E. coli strain was constrained to employ the anaerobic isobutanol pathways through deletion of 7 chromosomal genes, addition of 2 heterologous genes, and overexpression of 5 genes. Here we present the design, construction, and characterization of an isobutanol-producing E. coli strain to illustrate the approach. The model predictions are evaluated in relation to experimental data and strategies proposed to improve anaerobic isobutanol production. We also show that the endogenous alcohol/aldehyde dehydrogenase AdhE is the key enzyme responsible for the production of isobutanol and ethanol under anaerobic conditions. The glycolytic flux can be controlled to regulate the ratio of isobutanol to ethanol production.

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