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Overview of the 30-year history of metabolic engineering
< Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at KAIST > A research team comprised of Gi Bae Kim, Dr. So Young Choi, Dr. In Jin Cho, Da-Hee Ahn, and Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at KAIST reported the 30-year history of metabolic engineering, highlighting examples of recent progress in the field and contributions to sustainability and health. Their paper “Metabolic engineering for sustainability and health” was published online in the 40th anniversary special issue of Trends in Biotechnology on January 10, 2023. Metabolic engineering, a discipline of engineering that modifies cell phenotypes through molecular and genetic-level manipulations to improve cellular activities, has been studied since the early 1990s, and has progressed significantly over the past 30 years. In particular, metabolic engineering has enabled the engineering of microorganisms for the development of microbial cell factories capable of efficiently producing chemicals and materials as well as degrading recalcitrant contaminants. This review article revisited how metabolic engineering has advanced over the past 30 years, from the advent of genetic engineering techniques such as recombinant DNA technologies to recent breakthroughs in systems metabolic engineering and data science aided by artificial intelligence. The research team highlighted momentous events and achievements in metabolic engineering, providing both trends and future directions in the field. Metabolic engineering’s contributions to bio-based sustainable chemicals and clean energy, health, and bioremediation were also reviewed. Finally, the research team shared their perspectives on the future challenges impacting metabolic engineering than must be overcome in order to achieve advancements in sustainability and health. Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee said, “Replacing fossil resource-based chemical processes with bio-based sustainable processes for the production of chemicals, fuels, and materials using metabolic engineering has become our essential task for the future. By looking back on the 30+ years of metabolic engineering, we aimed to highlight the contributions of metabolic engineering to achieve sustainability and good health.” He added, “Metabolic engineering will play an increasingly important role as a key solution to the climate crisis, environmental pollution, food and energy shortages, and health problems in aging societies.” < Figure: Metabolic Engineering Timeline >
Natural Rainbow Colorants Microbially Produced
Integrated strategies of systems metabolic engineering and membrane engineering led to the production of natural rainbow colorants comprising seven natural colorants from bacteria for the first time A research group at KAIST has engineered bacterial strains capable of producing three carotenoids and four violacein derivatives, completing the seven colors in the rainbow spectrum. The research team integrated systems metabolic engineering and membrane engineering strategies for the production of seven natural rainbow colorants in engineered Escherichia coli strains. The strategies will be also useful for the efficient production of other industrially important natural products used in the food, pharmaceutical, and cosmetic industries. Colorants are widely used in our lives and are directly related to human health when we eat food additives and wear cosmetics. However, most of these colorants are made from petroleum, causing unexpected side effects and health problems. Furthermore, they raise environmental concerns such as water pollution from dyeing fabric in the textiles industry. For these reasons, the demand for the production of natural colorants using microorganisms has increased, but could not be readily realized due to the high cost and low yield of the bioprocesses. These challenges inspired the metabolic engineers at KAIST including researchers Dr. Dongsoo Yang and Dr. Seon Young Park, and Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. The team reported the study entitled “Production of rainbow colorants by metabolically engineered Escherichia coli” in Advanced Science online on May 5. It was selected as the journal cover of the July 7 issue. This research reports for the first time the production of rainbow colorants comprising three carotenoids and four violacein derivatives from glucose or glycerol via systems metabolic engineering and membrane engineering. The research group focused on the production of hydrophobic natural colorants useful for lipophilic food and dyeing garments. First, using systems metabolic engineering, which is an integrated technology to engineer the metabolism of a microorganism, three carotenoids comprising astaxanthin (red), -carotene (orange), and zeaxanthin (yellow), and four violacein derivatives comprising proviolacein (green), prodeoxyviolacein (blue), violacein (navy), and deoxyviolacein (purple) could be produced. Thus, the production of natural colorants covering the complete rainbow spectrum was achieved. When hydrophobic colorants are produced from microorganisms, the colorants are accumulated inside the cell. As the accumulation capacity is limited, the hydrophobic colorants could not be produced with concentrations higher than the limit. In this regard, the researchers engineered the cell morphology and generated inner-membrane vesicles (spherical membranous structures) to increase the intracellular capacity for accumulating the natural colorants. To further promote production, the researchers generated outer-membrane vesicles to secrete the natural colorants, thus succeeding in efficiently producing all of seven rainbow colorants. It was even more impressive that the production of natural green and navy colorants was achieved for the first time. “The production of the seven natural rainbow colorants that can replace the current petroleum-based synthetic colorants was achieved for the first time,” said Dr. Dongsoo Yang. He explained that another important point of the research is that integrated metabolic engineering strategies developed from this study can be generally applicable for the efficient production of other natural products useful as pharmaceuticals or nutraceuticals. “As maintaining good health in an aging society is becoming increasingly important, we expect that the technology and strategies developed here will play pivotal roles in producing other valuable natural products of medical or nutritional importance,” explained Distinguished Professor Lee. This work was supported by the "Cooperative Research Program for Agriculture Science & Technology Development (Project No. PJ01550602)" Rural Development Administration, Republic of Korea. -Publication:Dongsoo Yang, Seon Young Park, and Sang Yup Lee. Production of rainbow colorants by metabolically engineered Escherichia coli. Advanced Science, 2100743. -Profile Distinguished Professor Sang Yup LeeMetabolic &Biomolecular Engineering National Research Laboratoryhttp://mbel.kaist.ac.kr Department of Chemical and Biomolecular EngineeringKAIST
Efficiently Producing Fatty Acids and Biofuels from Glucose
Researchers have presented a new strategy for efficiently producing fatty acids and biofuels that can transform glucose and oleaginous microorganisms into microbial diesel fuel, with one-step direct fermentative production. The newly developed strain, created by Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee and his team, showed the highest efficiency in producing fatty acids and biodiesels ever reported. It will be expected to serve as a new platform to sustainably produce a wide array of fatty acid-based products from glucose and other carbon substrates. Fossil fuels, which have long been energy resources for our daily lives, are now facing serious challenges: depletion of their reserves and their role in global warming. The production of sustainable bio-based renewable energy has emerged as an essential alternative and many studies to replace fossil fuels are underway. One of the representative examples is biodiesel. Currently, it is mainly being produced through the transesterification of vegetable oils or animal fats. The research team engineered oleaginous microorganisms, Rhodococcus opacus, to produce fatty acids and their derivatives that can be used as biodiesel from glucose, one of the most abundant and cheap sugars derived from non-edible biomass. Professor Lee’s team has already engineered Escherichia coli to produce short-chain hydrocarbons, which can be used as gasoline (published in Nature as the cover paper in 2013). However, the production efficiency of the short-chain hydrocarbons using E. coli (0.58 g/L) fell short of the levels required for commercialization. To overcome these issues, the team employed oil-accumulating Rhodococcus opacus as a host strain in this study. First, the team optimized the cultivation conditions of Rhodococcus opacus to maximize the accumulation of oil (triacylglycerol), which serves as a precursor for the biosynthesis of fatty acids and their derivatives. Then, they systematically analyzed the metabolism of the strain and redesigned it to enable higher levels of fatty acids and two kinds of fatty acid-derived biodiesels (fatty acid ethyl esters and long-chain hydrocarbons) to be produced. They found that the resulting strains produced 50.2, 21.3, and 5.2 g/L of fatty acids, fatty acid ethyl esters, and long-chain hydrocarbons, respectively. These are all the highest concentrations ever reported by microbial fermentations. It is expected that these strains can contribute to the future industrialization of microbial-based biodiesel production. “This technology creates fatty acids and biodiesel with high efficiency by utilizing lignocellulose, one of the most abundant resources on the Earth, without depending on fossil fuels and vegetable or animal oils. This will provide new opportunities for oil and petroleum industries, which have long relied on fossil fuels, to turn to sustainable and eco-friendly biotechnologies,” said Professor Lee. This paper titled “Engineering of an oleaginous bacterium for the production of fatty acids and fuels” was published in Nature Chemical Biology on June 17. This work was supported by the Technology Development Program to Solve Climate Changes on Systems Metabolic Engineering for Biorefineries from the Ministry of Science and ICT through the National Research Foundation (NRF) of Korea (NRF-2012M1A2A2026556 and NRF-2012M1A2A2026557). (Figure: Metabolic engineering for the production of free fatty acids (FFAs), fatty acid ethyl esters (FAEEs), and long-chain hydrocarbons (LCHCs) in Rhodococcus opacus PD630. Researchers have presented a new strategy for efficiently producing fatty acids and biofuels that can transform glucose and oleaginous microorganisms into microbial diesel fuel, with one-step direct fermentative production.) # # # Source: Hye Mi Kim, Tong Un Chae, So Young Choi, Won Jun Kim and Sang Yup Lee. Engineering of an oleaginous bacterium for the production of fatty acids and fuels. Nature Chemical Biology ( https://www.nature.com/nchembio/ ) DOI: 10.1038/s41589-019-0295-5 Profile Dr. Sang Yup Lee firstname.lastname@example.org Distinguished Professor at the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering KAIST
Non-Natural Biomedical Polymers Produced from Microorganisms
KAIST researchers have developed metabolically engineered Escherichia coli strains to synthesize non-natural, biomedically important polymers including poly(lactate-co-glycolate) (PLGA), previously considered impossible to obtain from biobased materials. Renewable non-food biomass could potentially replace petrochemical raw materials to produce energy sources, useful chemicals, or a vast array of petroleum-based end products such as plastics, lubricants, paints, fertilizers, and vitamin capsules. In recent years, biorefineries which transform non-edible biomass into fuel, heat, power, chemicals, and materials have received a great deal of attention as a sustainable alternative to decreasing the reliance on fossil fuels. A research team headed by Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee of the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department at KAIST has established a biorefinery system to create non-natural polymers from natural sources, allowing various plastics to be made in an environmentally-friendly and sustainable manner. The research results were published online in Nature Biotechnology on March 7, 2016. The print version will be issued in April 2016. The research team adopted a systems metabolic engineering approach to develop a microorganism that can produce diverse non-natural, biomedically important polymers and succeeded in synthesizing poly(lactate-co-glycolate) (PLGA), a copolymer of two different polymer monomers, lactic and glycolic acid. PLGA is biodegradable, biocompatible, and non-toxic, and has been widely used in biomedical and therapeutic applications such as surgical sutures, prosthetic devices, drug delivery, and tissue engineering. Inspired by the biosynthesis process for polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs), biologically-derived polyesters produced in nature by the bacterial fermentation of sugar or lipids, the research team designed a metabolic pathway for the biosynthesis of PLGA through microbial fermentation directly from carbohydrates in Escherichia coli (E. coli) strains. The team had previously reported a recombinant E. coli producing PLGA by using the glyoxylate shunt pathway for the generation of glycolate from glucose, which was disclosed in their patents KR10-1575585-0000 (filing date of March 11, 2011), US08883463 and JP5820363. However, they discovered that the polymer content and glycolate fraction of PLGA could not be significantly enhanced via further engineering techniques. Thus, in this research, the team introduced a heterologous pathway to produce glycolate from xylose and succeeded in developing the recombinant E. coli producing PLGA and various novel copolymers much more efficiently. In order to produce PLGA by microbial fermentation directly from carbohydrates, the team incorporated external and engineered enzymes as catalysts to co-polymerize PLGA while establishing a few additional metabolic pathways for the biosynthesis to produce a range of different non-natural polymers, some for the first time. This bio-based synthetic process for PLGA and other polymers could substitute for the existing complicated chemical production that involves the preparation and purification of precursors, chemical polymerization processes, and the elimination of metal catalysts. Professor Lee and his team performed in silico genome-scale metabolic simulations of the E. coli cell to predict and analyze changes in the metabolic fluxes of cells which were caused by the introduction of external metabolic pathways. Based on these results, genes are manipulated to optimize metabolic fluxes by eliminating the genes responsible for byproducts formation and enhancing the expression levels of certain genes, thereby achieving the effective production of target polymers as well as stimulating cell growth. The team utilized the structural basis of broad substrate specificity of the key synthesizing enzyme, PHA synthase, to incorporate various co-monomers with main and side chains of different lengths. These monomers were produced inside the cell by metabolic engineering, and then copolymerized to improve the material properties of PLGA. As a result, a variety of PLGA copolymers with different monomer compositions such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved monomers, 3-hydroxyburate, 4-hydroxyburate, and 6-hydroxyhexanoate, were produced. Newly applied bioplastics such as 5-hydroxyvalerate and 2-hydroxyisovalerate were also made. The team employed a systems metabolic engineering application which, according to the researchers, is the first successful example of biological production of PGLA and several novel copolymers from renewable biomass by one-step direct fermentation of metabolically engineered E.coli. Professor Lee said, “We presented important findings that non-natural polymers, such as PLGA which is commonly used for drug delivery or biomedical devices, were produced by a metabolically engineered gut bacterium. Our research is meaningful in that it proposes a platform strategy in metabolic engineering, which can be further utilized in the development of numerous non-natural, useful polymers.” Director Ilsub Baek at the Platform Technology Division of the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning of Korea, who oversees the Technology Development Program to Solve Climate Change, said, “Professor Lee has led one of our research projects, the Systems Metabolic Engineering for Biorefineries, which began as part of the Ministry’s Technology Development Program to Solve Climate Change. He and his team have continuously achieved promising results and been attracting greater interest from the global scientific community. As climate change technology grows more important, this research on the biological production of non-natural, high value polymers will have a great impact on science and industry.” The title of the research paper is “One-step Fermentative Production of Poly(lactate-co-glycolate) from Carbohydrates in Escherichia coli (DOI: 10.1038/nbt.3485).” The lead authors are So Young Choi, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at KAIST, and Si Jae Park, Assistant Professor of the Environmental Engineering and Energy Department at Myongji University. Won Jun Kim and Jung Eun Yang, both doctoral students in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at KAIST, also participated in the research. This research was supported by the Technology Development Program to Solve Climate Change’s research project titled “Systems Metabolic Engineering for Biorefineries” from the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning through the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF-2012M1A2A2026556). Figure: Production of PLGA and Other Non-Natural Copolymers This schematic diagram shows the overall conceptualization of how metabolically engineered E. coli produced a variety of PLGAs with different monomer compositions, proposing the chemosynthetic process of non-natural polymers from biomass. The non-natural polymer PLGA and its other copolymers, which were produced by engineered bacteria developed by taking a systems metabolic engineering approach, accumulate in granule forms within a cell.
Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee Accepts an Honorary Professorship at Beijing University of Chemical Technology
Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at KAIST has been appointed an honorary professor at Beijing University of Chemical Technology (BUCT). Founded in 1958, BUCT is one of the outstanding universities in mainland China, especially in chemistry studies. In addition to the Chinese Academy of Sciences (2012), Shanghai Jiao Tong University (2013), Wuhan University (2014), and Hebei University of Technology (2014), this is the fifth honorary professorship Professor Lee has received from higher education institutions in China. Professor Lee was recognized for his pioneering research in systems metabolic engineering of microorganisms necessary for the development of green chemical industries. He succeeded in producing succinic acid through bacterial fermentation and engineering plastic raw materials in the most effective and economical method for the first time in the world. Professor Lee also developed polylactic acid, a bio-based polymer that allows plastics to be produced through natural and renewable resources, as well as the microbial production of alkanes, an alternative to gasoline that can be produced from fatty acids. Professor Lee has been actively working as a member of a group of global leaders supported by the World Economic Forum (WEF), serving as the Chairman of the Future of Chemicals, Advanced Materials & Biotechnology, Global Agenda Councils, WEF.
Wuhan University, China, Appoints Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee as Honorary Professor
Sang Yup Lee, Distinguished Professor of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at KAIST, has been appointed an honorary professor at Wuhan University in Hubei Province, China. This is the third time that Professor Lee has received an honorary professorship from Chinese academic institutions. The Chinese Academy of Sciences appointed him an honorary professor in 2012, and Shanghai Jia Tong University asked him to serve as an advisory professor in 2013, respectively. Professor Lee was recognized for his pioneering research in systems metabolic engineering of microorganisms necessary for the development of green chemical industries. He succeeded in producing succinic acid through bacterial fermentation and engineering plastic raw materials in the most effective and economical method for the first time in the world. Professor Lee also developed polylactic acid, a bio-based polymer that allows plastics to be produced through natural and renewable resources, as well as the microbial production of alkanes, an alternative to gasoline that can be produced from fatty acids. Professor Lee has been actively working as a member of a group of global leaders supported by the World Economic Forum (WEF), serving the Chairman of the Future of Chemicals, Advanced Materials & Biotechnology, Global Agenda Councils, WEF. Wuhan University is a comprehensive and key national university selected by the Chinese government as a major recipient of state funding for research. It is also known as one of the most beautiful campuses in China.
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