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Microbial Production of a Natural Red Colorant Carminic Acid
Metabolic engineering and computer-simulated enzyme engineering led to the production of carminic acid, a natural red colorant, from bacteria for the first time A research group at KAIST has engineered a bacterium capable of producing a natural red colorant, carminic acid, which is widely used for food and cosmetics. The research team reported the complete biosynthesis of carminic acid from glucose in engineered Escherichia coli. The strategies will be useful for the design and construction of biosynthetic pathways involving unknown enzymes and consequently the production of diverse industrially important natural products for the food, pharmaceutical, and cosmetic industries. Carminic acid is a natural red colorant widely being used for products such as strawberry milk and lipstick. However, carminic acid has been produced by farming cochineals, a scale insect which only grows in the region around Peru and Canary Islands, followed by complicated multi-step purification processes. Moreover, carminic acid often contains protein contaminants that cause allergies so many people are unwilling to consume products made of insect-driven colorants. On that account, manufacturers around the world are using alternative red colorants despite the fact that carminic acid is one of the most stable natural red colorants. These challenges inspired the metabolic engineering research group at KAIST to address this issue. Its members include postdoctoral researchers Dongsoo Yang and Woo Dae Jang, and Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. This study entitled “Production of carminic acid by metabolically engineered Escherichia coli” was published online in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS) on April 2. This research reports for the first time the development of a bacterial strain capable of producing carminic acid from glucose via metabolic engineering and computer simulation-assisted enzyme engineering. The research group optimized the type II polyketide synthase machinery to efficiently produce the precursor of carminic acid, flavokermesic acid. Since the enzymes responsible for the remaining two reactions were neither discovered nor functional, biochemical reaction analysis was performed to identify enzymes that can convert flavokermesic acid into carminic acid. Then, homology modeling and docking simulations were performed to enhance the activities of the two identified enzymes. The team could confirm that the final engineered strain could produce carminic acid directly from glucose. The C-glucosyltransferase developed in this study was found to be generally applicable for other natural products as showcased by the successful production of an additional product, aloesin, which is found in aloe leaves. “The most important part of this research is that unknown enzymes for the production of target natural products were identified and improved by biochemical reaction analyses and computer simulation-assisted enzyme engineering,” says Dr. Dongsoo Yang. He explained the development of a generally applicable C-glucosyltransferase is also useful since C-glucosylation is a relatively unexplored reaction in bacteria including Escherichia coli. Using the C-glucosyltransferase developed in this study, both carminic acid and aloesin were successfully produced from glucose. “A sustainable and insect-free method of producing carminic acid was achieved for the first time in this study. Unknown or inefficient enzymes have always been a major problem in natural product biosynthesis, and here we suggest one effective solution for solving this problem. As maintaining good health in the 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,” said Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee. This work was supported by the Technology Development Program to Solve Climate Changes on Systems Metabolic Engineering for Biorefineries of the Ministry of Science and ICT (MSIT) through the National Research Foundation (NRF) of Korea and the KAIST Cross-Generation Collaborative Lab project; Sang Yup Lee and Dongsoo Yang were also supported by Novo Nordisk Foundation in Denmark. Publication: Dongsoo Yang, Woo Dae Jang, and Sang Yup Lee. Production of carminic acid by metabolically engineered Escherichia coli. at the Journal of the American Chemical Society. https://doi.org.10.1021/jacs.0c12406 Profile: Sang Yup Lee, PhD Distinguished Professor email@example.com http://mbel.kaist.ac.kr Metabolic &Biomolecular Engineering National Research Laboratory Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering KAIST
Engineered Microbial Production of Grape Flavoring
(Image 1: Engineered bacteria that produce grape flavoring.) Researchers report a microbial method for producing an artificial grape flavor. Methyl anthranilate (MANT) is a common grape flavoring and odorant compound currently produced through a petroleum-based process that uses large volumes of toxic acid catalysts. Professor Sang-Yup Lee’s team at the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering demonstrated production of MANT, a naturally occurring compound, via engineered bacteria. The authors engineered strains of Escherichia coli and Corynebacetrium glutamicum to produce MANT through a plant-based engineered metabolic pathway. The authors tuned the bacterial metabolic pathway by optimizing the levels of AAMT1, the key enzyme in the process. To maximize production of MANT, the authors tested six strategies, including increasing the supply of a precursor compound and enhancing the availability of a co-substrate. The most productive strategy proved to be a two-phase extractive culture, in which MANT was extracted into a solvent. This strategy produced MANT on the scale of 4.47 to 5.74 grams per liter, a significant amount, considering that engineered microbes produce most natural products at a scale of milligrams or micrograms per liter. According to the authors, the results suggest that MANT and other related molecules produced through industrial processes can be produced at scale by engineered microbes in a manner that would allow them to be marketed as natural one, instead of artificial one. This study, featured at the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA on May 13, was supported by the Technology Development Program to Solve Climate Changes on Systems Metabolic Engineering for Biorefineries from the Ministry of Science and ICT. (Image 2. Overview of the strategies applied for the microbial production of grape flavoring.)
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