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Researchers Present a Microbial Strain Capable of Massive Succinic Acid Production
A research team led by Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee reported the production of a microbial strain capable of the massive production of succinic acid with the highest production efficiency to date. This strategy of integrating systems metabolic engineering with enzyme engineering will be useful for the production of industrially competitive bio-based chemicals. Their strategy was described in Nature Communications on April 23. The bio-based production of industrial chemicals from renewable non-food biomass has become increasingly important as a sustainable substitute for conventional petroleum-based production processes relying on fossil resources. Here, systems metabolic engineering, which is the key component for biorefinery technology, is utilized to effectively engineer the complex metabolic pathways of microorganisms to enable the efficient production of industrial chemicals. Succinic acid, a four-carbon dicarboxylic acid, is one of the most promising platform chemicals serving as a precursor for industrially important chemicals. Among microorganisms producing succinic acid, Mannheimia succiniciproducens has been proven to be one of the best strains for succinic acid production. The research team has developed a bio-based succinic acid production technology using the M. succiniciproducens strain isolated from the rumen of Korean cow for over 20 years and succeeded in developing a strain capable of producing succinic acid with the highest production efficiency. They carried out systems metabolic engineering to optimize the succinic acid production pathway of the M. succiniciproducens strain by determining the crystal structure of key enzymes important for succinic acid production and performing protein engineering to develop enzymes with better catalytic performance. As a result, 134 g per liter of succinic acid was produced from the fermentation of an engineered strain using glucose, glycerol, and carbon dioxide. They were able to achieve 21 g per liter per hour of succinic acid production, which is one of the key factors determining the economic feasibility of the overall production process. This is the world’s best succinic acid production efficiency reported to date. Previous production methods averaged 1~3 g per liter per hour. Distinguished professor Sang Yup Lee explained that his team’s work will significantly contribute to transforming the current petrochemical-based industry into an eco-friendly bio-based one. “Our research on the highly efficient bio-based production of succinic acid from renewable non-food resources and carbon dioxide has provided a basis for reducing our strong dependence on fossil resources, which is the main cause of the environmental crisis,” Professor Lee said. This work was supported by the Technology Development Program to Solve Climate Changes via Systems Metabolic Engineering for Biorefineries and the C1 Gas Refinery Program from the Ministry of Science and ICT through the National Research Foundation of Korea.
A powerful strategy for developing microbial cell factories by employing synthetic small RNAs
The current systems for the production of chemicals, fuels and materials heavily rely on the use of fossil resources. Due to the increasing concerns on climate change and other environmental problems, however, there has been much interest in developing biorefineries for the production of such chemicals, fuels and materials from renewable resources. For the biorefineries to be competitive with the traditional fossil resource-based refineries, development of high performance microorganisms is the most important as it will affect the overall economics of the process most significantly. Metabolic engineering, which can be defined as purposeful modification of cellular metabolic and regulatory networks with an aim to improve the production of a desired product, has been successfully employed to improve the performance of the cell. However, it is not trivial to engineer the cellular metabolism and regulatory circuits in the cell due to their high complexity. In metabolic engineering, it is important to find the genes that need to be amplified and attenuated in order to increase the product formation rate while minimizing the production of undesirable byproducts. Gene knock-out experiments are often performed to delete those metabolic fluxes that will consequently result in the increase of the desired product formation. However, gene knock-out experiments require much effort and time to perform, and are difficult to do for a large number of genes. Furthermore, the gene knock-out experiments performed in one strain cannot be transferred to another organism and thus the whole experimental process has to be repeated. This is a big problem in developing a high performance microbial cell factory because it is required to find the best platform strain among many different strains. Therefore, researchers have been eager to develop a strategy that allows rapid identification of multiple genes to be attenuated in multiple strains at the same time. A Korean research team led by Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee at the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) reported the development of a strategy for efficiently developing microbial cell factories by employing synthetic small RNAs (sRNAs). They first reported the development of such system in Nature Biotechnology last February. This strategy of employing synthetic sRNAs in metabolic engineering has been receiving great interest worldwide as it allows easy, rapid, high-throughput, tunable, and un-doable knock-down of multiple genes in multiple strains at the same time. The research team published a paper online on August 8 as a cover page (September issue) in Nature Protocols, describing the detailed strategy and protocol to employ synthetic sRNAs for metabolic engineering. In this paper, researchers described the detailed step-by-step protocol for synthetic sRNA-based gene expression control, including the sRNA design principles. Tailor-made synthetic sRNAs can be easily manipulated by using conventional gene cloning method. The use of synthetic sRNAs for gene expression regulation provides several advantages such as portability, conditionality, and tunability in high-throughput experiments. Plasmid-based synthetic sRNA expression system does not leave any scar on the chromosome, and can be easily transferred to many other host strains to be examined. Thus, the construction of libraries and examination of different host strains are much easier than the conventional hard-coded gene manipulation systems. Also, the expression of genes can be conditionally repressed by controlling the production of synthetic sRNAs. Synthetic sRNAs possessing different repression efficiencies make it possible to finely tune the gene expression levels as well. Furthermore, synthetic sRNAs allow knock-down of the expression of essential genes, which was not possible by conventional gene knock-out experiments. Synthetic sRNAs can be utilized for diverse experiments where gene expression regulation is needed. One of promising applications is high-throughput screening of the target genes to be manipulated and multiple strains simultaneously to enhance the production of chemicals and materials of interest. Such simultaneous optimization of gene targets and strains has been one of the big challenges in metabolic engineering. Another application is to fine tune the expression of the screened genes for flux optimization, which would enhance chemical production further by balancing the flux between biomass formation and target chemical production. Synthetic sRNAs can also be applied to finely regulating genetic interactions in a circuit or network, which is essential in synthetic biology. Once a sRNA scaffold-harboring plasmid is constructed, tailor-made, synthetic sRNAs can be made within 3-4 days, followed by the desired application experiments. Dr. Eytan Zlotorynski, an editor at Nature Protocols, said "This paper describes the detailed protocol for the design and applications of synthetic sRNA. The method, which has many advantages, is likely to become common practice, and prove useful for metabolic engineering and synthetic biology studies." This paper published in Nature Protocols will be useful for all researchers in academia and industry who are interested in the use of synthetic sRNAs for fundamental and applied biological and biotechnological studies. This work was supported by the Technology Development Program to Solve Climate Changes on Systems Metabolic Engineering for Biorefineries (NRF-2012-C1AAA001-2012M1A2A2026556) and the Intelligent Synthetic Biology Center through the Global Frontier Project (2011-0031963) of the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning through the National Research Foundation of Korea.
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