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Engineering short-chain carboxylic-acid metabolism in the model microorganism Escherichia coli

Time: Fri 2020-05-29 14.00

Location:, Stockholm (English)

Subject area: Biotechnology

Doctoral student: Gustav Sjöberg , Industriell bioteknologi

Opponent: Group Leader Solange Mussatto, Technical University of Denmark

Supervisor: Professor Antonius J. A. van Maris, Industriell bioteknologi

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The ever-increasing concern about carbon dioxide emissions has created an urgent need to develop alternative methods to cheaply and renewably produce materials, chemicals and fuels. The biorefinery is uniquely suited to deliver these products from sustainable biomass. However, cheaply and efficiently converting the dispersed, heterogenous and recalcitrant biomass to useful products requires further technical development. To address some of these challenges, the aim of this thesis was to investigate methods to improve the economic viability of the microbial biorefinery by evaluating short chain carboxylic acids as substrates (volatile fatty acids) and products ((R)-3-hydroxybutyrate, 3HB).

Initially, two renewable and cheap sources of carbon were investigated as substrates for E. coli. It was determined that E. coli is a suitable microorganism for valorization of volatile fatty acids derived from food waste. Also, it was shown that lignocellulosic sugars with a composition based on a hydrolysate of wheat straw can be converted to 3HB in E. coli with similar yields and productivities as from pure glucose. To improve the yield of the model product 3HB, and thereby the potential gross profit, substrate depletion was used as a strategy throughout the thesis to control bioprocesses. Specifically, nutrient depletion was shown to decouple growth from 3HB production in nitrogen and phosphorous depleted batches, increasing the yield of 3HB. To further improve 3HB production, metabolic engineering was used to improve the availability of NADPH. Additionally, the bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC) was investigated as a robust single-copy vector for metabolic engineering in E. coli. The expression of a large operon from the BAC was shown to be comparable to chromosomal expression. Then, the specific growth rate, productivity and yield of 3HB producing strains was increased by expression of the 3HB production pathway from the BAC instead of a multi-copy plasmid. Finally, the BAC was shown to be a useful tool for the optimization of enzyme expression levels in metabolic pathways. While directly beneficial for 3HB production, the methods and strategies employed in this thesis are broadly applicable to increase the economic viability of microbial biorefineries.