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J Biol Eng. 2013 Oct 18;7(1):24. doi: 10.1186/1754-1611-7-24.

Secretion of polyhydroxybutyrate in Escherichia coli using a synthetic biological engineering approach.

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Department of Biological Engineering, Utah State University, 4105 Old Main Hill, Logan 84322-4105, UT, USA.



Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) are a group of biodegradable plastics that are produced by a wide variety of microorganisms, mainly as a storage intermediate for energy and carbon. Polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) is a short-chain-length PHA with interesting chemical and physical properties. Large scale production of PHB is not wide-spread mainly due to the downstream processing of bacterial cultures to extract the PHB. Secretion of PHB from Escherichia coli could reduce downstream processing costs. PHB are non-proteinaceous polymers, hence cannot be directly targeted for secretion. Phasin, PhaP1, is a low molecular weight protein that binds to PHB, reducing PHB granule size. In this study PHB is indirectly secreted with PhaP1 from E. coli via type I secretion using HlyA signal peptides.


This study demonstrated the successful secretion of phasin and phasin bound PHB outside of the cell and into the culture medium. The secretion of PHB was initiated between 24 and 48 h after induction. After 48 h of culturing, 36% of the total PHB produced in the secreting strain was collected in the secreted fraction and 64% remained in the internal fraction. To further support the findings of this study, the PHB secretion phenomenon was observed using SEM.


From this study, the ability to use type I secretion to: 1) secrete phasin and 2) successfully secrete PHB has been shown.

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