Abstract Background Engineering strategies to create promoters that are both higher strength and tunable in the presence of inexpensive compounds are of high importance to develop metabolic engineering technologies that can be commercialized. Lignocellulosic biomass stands out as the most abundant renewable feedstock for the production of biofuels and chemicals. However, lignin a major polymeric component of the biomass is made up of aromatic units and remains as an untapped resource. Novel synthetic biology tools for the expression of heterologous proteins are critical for the effective engineering of a microbe to valorize lignin. This study demonstrates the first successful attempt in the creation of engineered promoters that can be induced by aromatics present in lignocellulosic hydrolysates to increase heterologous protein production. Results A hybrid promoter engineering approach was utilized for the construction of phenolic-inducible promoters of higher strength. The hybrid promoters were constructed by replacing the spacer region of an endogenous promoter, PemrR present in E. coli that was naturally inducible by phenolics. In the presence of vanillin, the engineered promoters Pvtac, Pvtrc, and Pvtic increased protein expression by 4.6-, 3.0-, and 1.5-fold, respectively, in comparison with a native promoter, PemrR. In the presence of vanillic acid, Pvtac, Pvtrc, and Pvtic improved protein expression by 9.5-, 6.8-, and 2.1-fold, respectively, in comparison with PemrR. Among the cells induced with vanillin, the emergence of a sub-population constituting the healthy and dividing cells using flow cytometry was observed. The analysis also revealed this smaller sub-population to be the primary contributor for the increased expression that was observed with the engineered promoters. Conclusions This study demonstrates the first successful attempt in the creation of engineered promoters that can be induced by aromatics to increase heterologous protein production. Employing promoters inducible by phenolics will provide the following advantages: (1) develop substrate inducible systems; (2) lower operating costs by replacing expensive IPTG currently used for induction; (3) develop dynamic regulatory systems; and (4) provide flexibility in operating conditions. The flow cytometry findings strongly suggest the need for novel approaches to maintain a healthy cell population in the presence of phenolics to achieve increased heterologous protein expression and, thereby, valorize lignin efficiently.
|Date made available||2018|