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Biotechnol Biofuels. 2013 Jul 22;6(1):103. doi: 10.1186/1754-6834-6-103.

Microevolution from shock to adaptation revealed strategies improving ethanol tolerance and production in Thermoanaerobacter.

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BioEnergy Genome Center, CAS Key Laboratory of Biofuels and Shandong Key Laboratory of Energy Genetics, Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Bioprocess Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Qingdao, Shandong, P, R, China.



The molecular links between shock-response and adaptation remain poorly understood, particularly for extremophiles. This has hindered rational engineering of solvent tolerance and correlated traits (e.g., productivity) in extremophiles. To untangle such molecular links, here we established a model that tracked the microevolution from shock to adaptation in thermophilic bacteria.


Temporal dynamics of genomes and transcriptomes was tracked for Thermoanaerobacter sp. X514 which under increasing exogenous ethanol evolved from ethanol-sensitive wild-type (Strain X) to tolerance of 2%- (XI) and eventually 6%-ethanol (XII). Based on the reconstructed transcriptional network underlying stress tolerance, genetic engineering was employed to improve ethanol tolerance and production in Thermoanaerobacter.


The spontaneous genome mutation rate (μg) of Thermoanaerobacter sp. X514, calculated at 0.045, suggested a higher mutation rate in thermophile than previously thought. Transcriptomic comparison revealed that shock-response and adaptation were distinct in nature, whereas the transcriptomes of XII resembled those of the extendedly shocked X. To respond to ethanol shock, X employed fructose-specific phosphotransferase system (PTS), Arginine Deiminase (ADI) pathway, alcohol dehydrogenase (Adh) and a distinct mechanism of V-type ATPase. As an adaptation to exogenous ethanol, XI mobilized resistance-nodulation-cell division (RND) efflux system and Adh, whereas XII, which produced higher ethanol than XI, employed ECF-type ϭ24, an alcohol catabolism operon and phase-specific heat-shock proteins (Hsps), modulated hexose/pentose-transport operon structure and reinforced membrane rigidity. Exploiting these findings, we further showed that ethanol productivity and tolerance can be improved simultaneously by overexpressing adh or ϭ24 in X.


Our work revealed thermophilic-bacteria specific features of adaptive evolution and demonstrated a rational strategy to engineer co-evolving industrial traits. As improvements of shock-response, stress tolerance and productivity have been crucial aims in industrial applications employing thermophiles, our findings should be valuable not just to the production of ethanol but also to a wide variety of biofuels and biochemicals.

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