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1.  Engineering of a plasmid-free Escherichia coli strain for improved in vivo biosynthesis of astaxanthin 
The xanthophyll astaxanthin is a high-value compound with applications in the nutraceutical, cosmetic, food, and animal feed industries. Besides chemical synthesis and extraction from naturally producing organisms like Haematococcus pluvialis, heterologous biosynthesis in non-carotenogenic microorganisms like Escherichia coli, is a promising alternative for sustainable production of natural astaxanthin. Recent achievements in the metabolic engineering of E. coli strains have led to a significant increase in the productivity of carotenoids like lycopene or β-carotene by increasing the metabolic flux towards the isoprenoid precursors. For the heterologous biosynthesis of astaxanthin in E. coli, however, the conversion of β-carotene to astaxanthin is obviously the most critical step towards an efficient biosynthesis of astaxanthin.
Here we report the construction of the first plasmid-free E. coli strain that produces astaxanthin as the sole carotenoid compound with a yield of 1.4 mg/g cdw (E. coli BW-ASTA). This engineered E. coli strain harbors xanthophyll biosynthetic genes from Pantoea ananatis and Nostoc punctiforme as individual expression cassettes on the chromosome and is based on a β-carotene-producing strain (E. coli BW-CARO) recently developed in our lab. E. coli BW-CARO has an enhanced biosynthesis of the isoprenoid precursor isopentenyl diphosphate (IPP) and produces β-carotene in a concentration of 6.2 mg/g cdw. The expression of crtEBIY along with the β-carotene-ketolase gene crtW148 (NpF4798) and the β-carotene-hydroxylase gene (crtZ) under controlled expression conditions in E. coli BW-ASTA directed the pathway exclusively towards the desired product astaxanthin (1.4 mg/g cdw).
By using the λ-Red recombineering technique, genes encoding for the astaxanthin biosynthesis pathway were stably integrated into the chromosome of E. coli. The expression levels of chromosomal integrated recombinant biosynthetic genes were varied and adjusted to improve the ratios of carotenoids produced by this E. coli strain. The strategy presented, which combines chromosomal integration of biosynthetic genes with the possibility of adjusting expression by using different promoters, might be useful as a general approach for the construction of stable heterologous production strains synthesizing natural products. This is the case especially for heterologous pathways where excessive protein overexpression is a hindrance.
PMCID: PMC3111352  PMID: 21521516
astaxanthin; chromosomal integration; E. coli
2.  Metabolic Engineering of Saccharomyces cerevisiae for Astaxanthin Production and Oxidative Stress Tolerance▿  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2009;75(22):7205-7211.
The red carotenoid astaxanthin possesses higher antioxidant activity than other carotenoids and has great commercial potential for use in the aquaculture, pharmaceutical, and food industries. In this study, we produced astaxanthin in the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae by introducing the genes involved in astaxanthin biosynthesis of carotenogenic microorganisms. In particular, expression of genes of the red yeast Xanthophyllomyces dendrorhous encoding phytoene desaturase (crtI product) and bifunctional phytoene synthase/lycopene cyclase (crtYB product) resulted in the accumulation of a small amount of β-carotene in S. cerevisiae. Overexpression of geranylgeranyl pyrophosphate (GGPP) synthase from S. cerevisiae (the BTS1 gene product) increased the intracellular β-carotene levels due to the accelerated conversion of farnesyl pyrophosphate to GGPP. Introduction of the X. dendrorhous crtS gene, encoding astaxanthin synthase, assumed to be the cytochrome P450 enzyme, did not lead to astaxanthin production. However, coexpression of CrtS with X. dendrorhous CrtR, a cytochrome P450 reductase, resulted in the accumulation of a small amount of astaxanthin. In addition, the β-carotene-producing yeast cells transformed by the bacterial genes crtW and crtZ, encoding β-carotene ketolase and hydroxylase, respectively, also accumulated astaxanthin and its intermediates, echinenone, canthaxanthin, and zeaxanthin. Interestingly, we found that these ketocarotenoids conferred oxidative stress tolerance on S. cerevisiae cells. This metabolic engineering has potential for overproduction of astaxanthin and breeding of novel oxidative stress-tolerant yeast strains.
PMCID: PMC2786542  PMID: 19801484
3.  Structure and functional analysis of a marine bacterial carotenoid biosynthesis gene cluster and astaxanthin biosynthetic pathway proposed at the gene level. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1995;177(22):6575-6584.
A carotenoid biosynthesis gene cluster for the production of astaxanthin was isolated from the marine bacterium Agrobacterium aurantiacum. This cluster contained five carotenogenic genes with the same orientation, which were designated crtW, crtZ, crtY, crtI, and crtB. The stop codons of individual crt genes except for crtB overlapped the start codons of the following crt genes. Escherichia coli transformants carrying the Erwinia uredovora carotenoid biosynthesis genes provide suitable substrates for carotenoid biosynthesis. The functions of the five crt genes of A. aurantiacum were determined through chromatographic and spectroscopic analyses of the pigments accumulated in some E. coli transformants carrying various combinations of the E. uredovora and A. aurantiacum carotenogenic genes. As a result, the astaxanthin biosynthetic pathway is proposed for the first time at the level of the biosynthesis genes. The crtW and crtZ gene products, which mediated the oxygenation reactions from beta-carotene to astaxanthin, were found to have low substrate specificity. This allowed the production of many presumed intermediates of astaxanthin, i.e., adonixanthin, phoenicoxanthin (adonirubin), canthaxanthin, 3'-hydroxyechinenone, and 3-hydroxyechinenone.
PMCID: PMC177511  PMID: 7592436
4.  Mutational and Functional Analysis of the β-Carotene Ketolase Involved in the Production of Canthaxanthin and Astaxanthin 
Biosynthesis of the commercial carotenoids canthaxanthin and astaxanthin requires β-carotene ketolase. The functional importance of the conserved amino acid residues of this enzyme from Paracoccus sp. strain N81106 (formerly classified as Agrobacterium aurantiacum) was analyzed by alanine-scanning mutagenesis. Mutations in the three highly conserved histidine motifs involved in iron coordination abolished its ability to catalyze the formation of ketocarotenoids. This supports the hypothesis that the CrtW ketolase belongs to the family of iron-dependent integral membrane proteins. Most of the mutations generated at other highly conserved residues resulted in partial activity. All partially active mutants showed a higher amount of adonixanthin accumulation than did the wild type when expressed in Escherichia coli cells harboring the zeaxanthin biosynthetic gene cluster. Some of the partially active mutants also produced a significant amount of echinenone when expressed in cells producing β-carotene. In fact, expression of a mutant carrying D117A resulted in the accumulation of echinenone as the predominant carotenoid. These observations indicate that partial inactivation of the CrtW ketolase can often lead to the production of monoketolated intermediates. In order to improve the conversion rate of astaxanthin catalyzed by the CrtW ketolase, a color screening system was developed. Three randomly generated mutants, carrying L175M, M99V, and M99I, were identified to have improved activity. These mutants are potentially useful in pathway engineering for the production of astaxanthin.
PMCID: PMC1563626  PMID: 16957201
5.  Carotenoid β-Ring Hydroxylase and Ketolase from Marine Bacteria—Promiscuous Enzymes for Synthesizing Functional Xanthophylls 
Marine Drugs  2011;9(5):757-771.
Marine bacteria belonging to genera Paracoccus and Brevundimonas of the α-Proteobacteria class can produce C40-type dicyclic carotenoids containing two β-end groups (β rings) that are modified with keto and hydroxyl groups. These bacteria produce astaxanthin, adonixanthin, and their derivatives, which are ketolated by carotenoid β-ring 4(4′)-ketolase (4(4′)-oxygenase; CrtW) and hydroxylated by carotenoid β-ring 3(3′)-hydroxylase (CrtZ). In addition, the genus Brevundimonas possesses a gene for carotenoid β-ring 2(2′)-hydroxylase (CrtG). This review focuses on these carotenoid β-ring-modifying enzymes that are promiscuous for carotenoid substrates, and pathway engineering for the production of xanthophylls (oxygen-containing carotenoids) in Escherichia coli, using these enzyme genes. Such pathway engineering researches are performed towards efficient production not only of commercially important xanthophylls such as astaxanthin, but also of xanthophylls minor in nature (e.g., β-ring(s)-2(2′)-hydroxylated carotenoids).
PMCID: PMC3111180  PMID: 21673887
Paracoccus; Brevundimonas; marine bacteria; ketocarotenoid; functional xanthophyll
6.  High-Level Production of Beta-Carotene in Saccharomyces cerevisiae by Successive Transformation with Carotenogenic Genes from Xanthophyllomyces dendrorhous▿  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2007;73(13):4342-4350.
To determine whether Saccharomyces cerevisiae can serve as a host for efficient carotenoid and especially β-carotene production, carotenogenic genes from the carotenoid-producing yeast Xanthophyllomyces dendrorhous were introduced and overexpressed in S. cerevisiae. Because overexpression of these genes from an episomal expression vector resulted in unstable strains, the genes were integrated into genomic DNA to yield stable, carotenoid-producing S. cerevisiae cells. Furthermore, carotenoid production levels were higher in strains containing integrated carotenogenic genes. Overexpression of crtYB (which encodes a bifunctional phytoene synthase and lycopene cyclase) and crtI (phytoene desaturase) from X. dendrorhous was sufficient to enable carotenoid production. Carotenoid production levels were increased by additional overexpression of a homologous geranylgeranyl diphosphate (GGPP) synthase from S. cerevisiae that is encoded by BTS1. Combined overexpression of crtE (heterologous GGPP synthase) from X. dendrorhous with crtYB and crtI and introduction of an additional copy of a truncated 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-coenzyme A reductase gene (tHMG1) into carotenoid-producing cells resulted in a successive increase in carotenoid production levels. The strains mentioned produced high levels of intermediates of the carotenogenic pathway and comparable low levels of the preferred end product β-carotene, as determined by high-performance liquid chromatography. We finally succeeded in constructing an S. cerevisiae strain capable of producing high levels of β-carotene, up to 5.9 mg/g (dry weight), which was accomplished by the introduction of an additional copy of crtI and tHMG1 into carotenoid-producing yeast cells. This transformant is promising for further development toward the biotechnological production of β-carotene by S. cerevisiae.
PMCID: PMC1932764  PMID: 17496128
7.  Metabolic Engineering of the Carotenoid Biosynthetic Pathway in the Yeast Xanthophyllomyces dendrorhous (Phaffia rhodozyma) 
The crtYB locus was used as an integrative platform for the construction of specific carotenoid biosynthetic mutants in the astaxanthin-producing yeast Xanthophyllomyces dendrorhous. The crtYB gene of X. dendrorhous, encoding a chimeric carotenoid biosynthetic enzyme, could be inactivated by both single and double crossover events, resulting in non-carotenoid-producing transformants. In addition, the crtYB gene, linked to either its homologous or a glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase promoter, was overexpressed in the wild type and a β-carotene-accumulating mutant of X. dendrorhous. In several transformants containing multiple copies of the crtYB gene, the total carotenoid content was higher than in the control strain. This increase was mainly due to an increase of the β-carotene and echinone content, whereas the total content of astaxanthin was unaffected or even lower. Overexpression of the phytoene synthase-encoding gene (crtI) had a large impact on the ratio between mono- and bicyclic carotenoids. Furthermore, we showed that in metabolic engineered X. dendrorhous strains, the competition between the enzymes phytoene desaturase and lycopene cyclase for lycopene governs the metabolic flux either via β-carotene to astaxanthin or via 3,4-didehydrolycopene to 3-hydroxy-3′-4′-didehydro-β-ψ-caroten-4-one (HDCO). The monocylic carotenoid torulene and HDCO, normally produced as minority carotenoids, were the main carotenoids produced in these strains.
PMCID: PMC165150  PMID: 12839738
8.  Cloning of the cytochrome p450 reductase (crtR) gene and its involvement in the astaxanthin biosynthesis of Xanthophyllomyces dendrorhous 
BMC Microbiology  2008;8:169.
The yeast Xanthophyllomyces dendrorhous synthesizes astaxanthin, a carotenoid with high commercial interest. The proposed biosynthetic route in this organism is isopentenyl-pyrophosphate (IPP) → geranyleranyl pyrophosphate (GGPP) → phytoene → lycopene → β-carotene → astaxanthin. Recently, it has been published that the conversion of β-carotene into astaxanthin requires only one enzyme, astaxanthin synthase or CrtS, encoded by crtS gene. This enzyme belongs to the cytochrome P450 protein family.
In this work, a crtR gene was isolated from X. dendrorhous yeast, which encodes a cytochrome P450 reductase (CPR) that provides CrtS with the necessary electrons for substrate oxygenation. We determined the structural organization of the crtR gene and its location in the yeast electrophoretic karyotype. Two transformants, CBSTr and T13, were obtained by deleting the crtR gene and inserting a hygromycin B resistance cassette. The carotenoid composition of the transformants was altered in relation to the wild type strain. CBSTr forms yellow colonies because it is unable to produce astaxanthin, hence accumulating β-carotene. T13 forms pale colonies because its astaxanthin content is reduced and its β-carotene content is increased.
In addition to the crtS gene, X. dendrorhous requires a novel gene, crtR, for the conversion of β-carotene to astaxanthin.
PMCID: PMC2575211  PMID: 18837978
9.  Conversion of β-carotene into astaxanthin: Two separate enzymes or a bifunctional hydroxylase-ketolase protein? 
Astaxanthin is a xanthophyll of great interest in animal nutrition and human health. The market prospect in the nutraceutics industries for this health-protective molecule is very promising. Astaxanthin is synthesized by several bacteria, algae and plants from β-carotene by the sequential action of two enzymes: a β-carotene, 3,3'-hydroxylase that introduces an hydroxyl group at the 3 (and 3') positions of each of the two β-ionone rings of β-carotene, and a β-carotene ketolase that introduces keto groups at carbons 4 and 4' of the β-ionone rings. Astaxanthin is also produced by the yeast-like basidiomycete Xanthophyllomyces dendrorhous. A gene crtS involved in the conversion of β-carotene to astaxanthin has been cloned simultaneously by two research groups. Complementation studies of X. dendrorhous mutants and expression analysis in Mucor circinelloides reveals that the CrtS enzyme is a β-carotene hydroxylase of the P-450 monooxygenase family that converts β-carotene to the hydroxylated derivatives β-cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin, but it does not form astaxanthin or the ketolated intermediates in this fungus. A bifunctional β-carotene hydroxylase-ketolase activity has been proposed for the CrtS protein. The evidence for and against this hypothesis is analyzed in detail in this review.
PMCID: PMC2288588  PMID: 18289382
10.  Carotenoid Biosynthesis in Cyanobacteria: Structural and Evolutionary Scenarios Based on Comparative Genomics 
Carotenoids are widely distributed pigments in nature and their biosynthetic pathway has been extensively studied in various organisms. The recent access to the overwhelming amount genomic data of cyanobacteria has given birth to a novel approach called comparative genomics. The putative enzymes involved in the carotenoid biosynthesis among the cyanobacteria were determined by similarity-based tools. The reconstruction of biosynthetic pathway was based on the related enzymes. It is interesting to find that nearly all the cyanobacteria share quite similar pathway to synthesize β-carotene except for Gloeobacter violaceus PCC 7421. The enzymes, crtE-B-P-Qb-L, involved in the upstream pathway are more conserved than the subsequent ones (crtW-R). In addition, many carotenoid synthesis enzymes exhibit diversity in structure and function. Such examples in the families of ζ –carotene desaturase, lycopene cylases and carotene ketolases were described in this article. When we mapped these crt genes to the cyanobacterial genomes, the crt genes showed great structural variation among species. All of them are dispersed on the whole chromosome in contrast to the linear adjacent distribution of the crt gene cluster in other eubacteria. Moreover, in unicellular cyanobacteria, each step of the carotenogenic pathway is usually catalyzed by one gene product, whereas multiple ketolase genes are found in filamentous cyanobacteria. Such increased numbers of crt genes and their correlation to the ecological adaptation were carefully discussed.
PMCID: PMC1560406  PMID: 16967101
Cyanobacteria; Comparative genomics; Carotenoid pathway
11.  Functional Characterization of the Xanthophyllomyces dendrorhous Farnesyl Pyrophosphate Synthase and Geranylgeranyl Pyrophosphate Synthase Encoding Genes That Are Involved in the Synthesis of Isoprenoid Precursors 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(5):e96626.
The yeast Xanthophyllomyces dendrorhous synthesizes the carotenoid astaxanthin, which has applications in biotechnology because of its antioxidant and pigmentation properties. However, wild-type strains produce too low amounts of carotenoids to be industrially competitive. Considering this background, it is indispensable to understand how the synthesis of astaxanthin is controlled and regulated in this yeast. In this work, the steps leading to the synthesis of the carotenoid precursor geranylgeranyl pyrophosphate (GGPP, C20) in X. dendrorhous from isopentenyl pyrophosphate (IPP, C5) and dimethylallyl pyrophosphate (DMAPP, C5) was characterized. Two prenyl transferase encoding genes, FPS and crtE, were expressed in E. coli. The enzymatic assays using recombinant E. coli protein extracts demonstrated that FPS and crtE encode a farnesyl pyrophosphate (FPP, C15) synthase and a GGPP-synthase, respectively. X. dendrorhous FPP-synthase produces geranyl pyrophosphate (GPP, C10) from IPP and DMAPP and FPP from IPP and GPP, while the X. dendrorhous GGPP-synthase utilizes only FPP and IPP as substrates to produce GGPP. Additionally, the FPS and crtE genes were over-expressed in X. dendrorhous, resulting in an increase of the total carotenoid production. Because the parental strain is diploid, the deletion of one of the alleles of these genes did not affect the total carotenoid production, but the composition was significantly altered. These results suggest that the over-expression of these genes might provoke a higher carbon flux towards carotenogenesis, most likely involving an earlier formation of a carotenogenic enzyme complex. Conversely, the lower carbon flux towards carotenogenesis in the deletion mutants might delay or lead to a partial formation of a carotenogenic enzyme complex, which could explain the accumulation of astaxanthin carotenoid precursors in these mutants. In conclusion, the FPS and the crtE genes represent good candidates to manipulate to favor carotenoid biosynthesis in X. dendrorhous.
PMCID: PMC4010515  PMID: 24796858
12.  Optimization of the IPP Precursor Supply for the Production of Lycopene, Decaprenoxanthin and Astaxanthin by Corynebacterium glutamicum 
The biotechnologically relevant bacterium Corynebacterium glutamicum, currently used for the million ton-scale production of amino acids for the food and feed industries, is pigmented due to synthesis of the rare cyclic C50 carotenoid decaprenoxanthin and its glucosides. The precursors of carotenoid biosynthesis, isopenthenyl pyrophosphate (IPP) and its isomer dimethylallyl pyrophosphate, are synthesized in this organism via the methylerythritol phosphate (MEP) or non-mevalonate pathway. Terminal pathway engineering in recombinant C. glutamicum permitted the production of various non-native C50 and C40 carotenoids. Here, the role of engineering isoprenoid precursor supply for lycopene production by C. glutamicum was characterized. Overexpression of dxs encoding the enzyme that catalyzes the first committed step of the MEP-pathway by chromosomal promoter exchange in a prophage-cured, genome-reduced C. glutamicum strain improved lycopene formation. Similarly, an increased IPP supply was achieved by chromosomal integration of two artificial operons comprising MEP pathway genes under the control of a constitutive promoter. Combined overexpression of dxs and the other six MEP pathways genes in C. glutamicum strain LYC3-MEP was not synergistic with respect to improving lycopene accumulation. Based on C. glutamicum strain LYC3-MEP, astaxanthin could be produced in the milligrams per gram cell dry weight range when the endogenous genes crtE, crtB, and crtI for conversion of geranylgeranyl pyrophosphate to lycopene were coexpressed with the genes for lycopene cyclase and β-carotene hydroxylase from Pantoea ananatis and carotene C(4) oxygenase from Brevundimonas aurantiaca.
PMCID: PMC4138558  PMID: 25191655
carotenoid production; genome-reduced Corynebacterium glutamicum; MEP pathway; synthetic operons; astaxanthin
13.  Cloning and Characterization of Genes Involved in Nostoxanthin Biosynthesis of Sphingomonas elodea ATCC 31461 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(4):e35099.
Most Sphingomonas species synthesize the yellow carotenoid nostoxanthin. However, the carotenoid biosynthetic pathway of these species remains unclear. In this study, we cloned and characterized a carotenoid biosynthesis gene cluster containing four carotenogenic genes (crtG, crtY, crtI and crtB) and a β-carotene hydroxylase gene (crtZ) located outside the cluster, from the gellan-gum producing bacterium Sphingomonas elodea ATCC 31461. Each of these genes was inactivated, and the biochemical function of each gene was confirmed based on chromatographic and spectroscopic analysis of the intermediates accumulated in the knockout mutants. Moreover, the crtG gene encoding the 2,2′-β-hydroxylase and the crtZ gene encoding the β-carotene hydroxylase, both responsible for hydroxylation of β-carotene, were confirmed by complementation studies using Escherichia coli producing different carotenoids. Expression of crtG in zeaxanthin and β-carotene accumulating E. coli cells resulted in the formation of nostoxanthin and 2,2′-dihydroxy-β-carotene, respectively. Based on these results, a biochemical pathway for synthesis of nostoxanthin in S. elodea ATCC 31461 is proposed.
PMCID: PMC3324416  PMID: 22509387
14.  Production of the Carotenoids Lycopene, β-Carotene, and Astaxanthin in the Food Yeast Candida utilis 
The food-grade yeast Candida utilis has been engineered to confer a novel biosynthetic pathway for the production of carotenoids such as lycopene, β-carotene, and astaxanthin. The exogenous carotenoid biosynthesis genes were derived from the epiphytic bacterium Erwinia uredovora and the marine bacterium Agrobacterium aurantiacum. The carotenoid biosynthesis genes were individually modified based on the codon usage of the C. utilis glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate dehydrogenase gene and expressed in C. utilis under the control of the constitutive promoters and terminators derived from C. utilis. The resultant yeast strains accumulated lycopene, β-carotene, and astaxanthin in the cells at 1.1, 0.4, and 0.4 mg per g (dry weight) of cells, respectively. This was considered to be a result of the carbon flow into ergosterol biosynthesis being partially redirected to the nonendogenous pathway for carotenoid production.
PMCID: PMC106133  PMID: 9546156
15.  Genetic Manipulation of Carotenoid Biosynthesis in the Green Sulfur Bacterium Chlorobium tepidum†  
Journal of Bacteriology  2004;186(16):5210-5220.
The green sulfur bacterium Chlorobium tepidum is a strict anaerobe and an obligate photoautotroph. On the basis of sequence similarity with known enzymes or sequence motifs, nine open reading frames encoding putative enzymes of carotenoid biosynthesis were identified in the genome sequence of C. tepidum, and all nine genes were inactivated. Analysis of the carotenoid composition in the resulting mutants allowed the genes encoding the following six enzymes to be identified: phytoene synthase (crtB/CT1386), phytoene desaturase (crtP/CT0807), ζ-carotene desaturase (crtQ/CT1414), γ-carotene desaturase (crtU/CT0323), carotenoid 1′,2′-hydratase (crtC/CT0301), and carotenoid cis-trans isomerase (crtH/CT0649). Three mutants (CT0180, CT1357, and CT1416 mutants) did not exhibit a discernible phenotype. The carotenoid biosynthetic pathway in C. tepidum is similar to that in cyanobacteria and plants by converting phytoene into lycopene using two plant-like desaturases (CrtP and CrtQ) and a plant-like cis-trans isomerase (CrtH) and thus differs from the pathway known in all other bacteria. In contrast to the situation in cyanobacteria and plants, the construction of a crtB mutant completely lacking carotenoids demonstrates that carotenoids are not essential for photosynthetic growth of green sulfur bacteria. However, the bacteriochlorophyll a contents of mutants lacking colored carotenoids (crtB, crtP, and crtQ mutants) were decreased from that of the wild type, and these mutants exhibited a significant growth rate defect under all light intensities tested. Therefore, colored carotenoids may have both structural and photoprotection roles in green sulfur bacteria. The ability to manipulate the carotenoid composition so dramatically in C. tepidum offers excellent possibilities for studying the roles of carotenoids in the light-harvesting chlorosome antenna and iron-sulfur-type (photosystem I-like) reaction center. The phylogeny of carotenogenic enzymes in green sulfur bacteria and green filamentous bacteria is also discussed.
PMCID: PMC490927  PMID: 15292122
16.  Increased Production of Zeaxanthin and Other Pigments by Application of Genetic Engineering Techniques to Synechocystis sp. Strain PCC 6803 
The psbAII locus was used as an integration platform to overexpress genes involved in carotenoid biosynthesis in Synechocystis sp. strain PCC 6803 under the control of the strong psbAII promoter. The sequences of the genes encoding the yeast isopentenyl diphosphate isomerase (ipi) and the Synechocystis β-carotene hydroxylase (crtR) and the linked Synechocystis genes coding for phytoene desaturase and phytoene synthase (crtP and crtB, respectively) were introduced into Synechocystis, replacing the psbAII coding sequence. Expression of ipi, crtR, and crtP and crtB led to a large increase in the corresponding transcript levels in the mutant strains, showing that the psbAII promoter can be used to drive transcription and to overexpress various genes in Synechocystis. Overexpression of crtP and crtB led to a 50% increase in the myxoxanthophyll and zeaxanthin contents in the mutant strain, whereas the β-carotene and echinenone contents remained unchanged. Overexpression of crtR induced a 2.5-fold increase in zeaxanthin accumulation in the corresponding overexpressing mutant compared to that in the wild-type strain. In this mutant strain, zeaxanthin becomes the major pigment (more than half the total amount of carotenoid) and the β-carotene and echinenone amounts are reduced by a factor of 2. However, overexpression of ipi did not result in a change in the carotenoid content of the mutant. To further alter the carotenoid content of Synechocystis, the crtO gene, encoding β-carotene ketolase, which converts β-carotene to echinenone, was disrupted in the wild type and in the overexpressing strains so that they no longer produced echinenone. In this way, by a combination of overexpression and deletion of particular genes, the carotenoid content of cyanobacteria can be altered significantly.
PMCID: PMC91786  PMID: 10618204
17.  Functional characterization of various algal carotenoid ketolases reveals that ketolating zeaxanthin efficiently is essential for high production of astaxanthin in transgenic Arabidopsis 
Journal of Experimental Botany  2011;62(10):3659-3669.
Extending the carotenoid pathway to astaxanthin in plants is of scientific and industrial interest. However, expression of a microbial β-carotene ketolase (BKT) that catalyses the formation of ketocarotenoids in transgenic plants typically results in low levels of astaxanthin. The low efficiency of BKTs in ketolating zeaxanthin to astaxanthin is proposed to be the major limitation for astaxanthin accumulation in engineered plants. To verify this hypothesis, several algal BKTs were functionally characterized using an Escherichia coli system and three BKTs were identified, with high (up to 85%), moderate (∼38%), and low (∼1%) conversion rate from zeaxanthin to astaxanthin from Chlamydomonas reinhardtii (CrBKT), Chlorella zofingiensis (CzBKT), and Haematococcus pluvialis (HpBKT3), respectively. Transgenic Arabidopsis thaliana expressing the CrBKT developed orange leaves which accumulated astaxanthin up to 2 mg g−1 dry weight with a 1.8-fold increase in total carotenoids. In contrast, the expression of CzBKT resulted in much lower astaxanthin content (0.24 mg g−1 dry weight), whereas HpBKT3 was unable to mediate synthesis of astaxanthin in A. thaliana. The none-native astaxanthin was found mostly in a free form integrated into the light-harvesting complexes of photosystem II in young leaves but in esterified forms in senescent leaves. The alteration of carotenoids did not affect chlorophyll content, plant growth, or development significantly. The astaxanthin-producing plants were more tolerant to high light as shown by reduced lipid peroxidation. This study advances a decisive step towards the utilization of plants for the production of high-value astaxanthin.
PMCID: PMC3130182  PMID: 21398427
Arabidopsis thaliana; astaxanthin; β-carotene ketolase; carotenoid; Haematococcus pluvialis
18.  Elucidation of the Erwinia uredovora carotenoid biosynthetic pathway by functional analysis of gene products expressed in Escherichia coli. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1990;172(12):6704-6712.
The most important function of carotenoid pigments, especially beta-carotene in higher plants, is to protect organisms against photooxidative damage (G. Britton, in T. W. Goodwin, ed., Plant Pigments--1988, 1988; N. I. Krinsky, in O. Isler, H. Gutmann, and U. Solms, ed., Carotenoids--1971, 1971). beta-Carotene also functions as a precursor of vitamin A in mammals (G. A. J. Pitt, in I. Osler, H. Gutmann, and U. Solms, ed., Carotenoids--1971, 1971). The enzymes and genes which mediate the biosynthesis of cyclic carotenoids such as beta-carotene are virtually unknown. We have elucidated for the first time the pathway for biosynthesis of these carotenoids at the level of enzyme-catalyzed reactions, using bacterial carotenoid biosynthesis genes. These genes were cloned from a phytopathogenic bacterium, Erwinia uredovora 20D3 (ATCC 19321), in Escherichia coli and located on a 6,918-bp fragment whose nucleotide sequence was determined. Six open reading frames were found and designated the crtE, crtX, crtY, crtI, crtB, and crtZ genes in reference to the carotenoid biosynthesis genes of a photosynthetic bacterium, Rhodobacter capsulatus; only crtZ had the opposite orientation from the others. The carotenoid biosynthetic pathway in Erwinia uredovora was clarified by analyzing carotenoids accumulated in E. coli transformants in which some of these six genes were expressed, as follows: geranylgeranyl PPiCrtB----prephytoene PPiCrtE----phytoeneCrtI---- lycopeneCrtY----beta-caroteneCrtZ----zeaxanthinCrtX--- -zeaxanthin-beta- diglucoside. The carotenoids in this pathway appear to be close to those in higher plants rather than to those in bacteria. Also significant is that only one gene product (CrtI) for the conversion of phytoene to lycopene is required, a conversion in which four sequential desaturations should occur via the intermediates phytofluene, zeta-carotene, and neurosporene.
PMCID: PMC210783  PMID: 2254247
19.  Isolation and Characterization of a Lycopene ε-Cyclase Gene of Chlorella (Chromochloris) zofingiensis. Regulation of the Carotenogenic Pathway by Nitrogen and Light 
Marine Drugs  2012;10(9):2069-2088.
The isolation and characterization of the lycopene ε-cyclase gene from the green microalga Chlorella (Chromochloris) zofingiensis (Czlcy-e) was performed. This gene is involved in the formation of the carotenoids α-carotene and lutein. Czlcy-e gene encoded a polypeptide of 654 amino acids. A single copy of Czlcy-e was found in C. zofingiensis. Functional analysis by heterologous complementation in Escherichia coli showed the ability of this protein to convert lycopene to δ-carotene. In addition, the regulation of the carotenogenic pathway by light and nitrogen was also studied in C. zofingiensis. High irradiance stress did not increase mRNA levels of neither lycopene β-cyclase gene (lcy-b) nor lycopene ε-cyclase gene (lcy-e) as compared with low irradiance conditions, whereas the transcript levels of psy, pds, chyB and bkt genes were enhanced, nevertheless triggering the synthesis of the secondary carotenoids astaxanthin, canthaxanthin and zeaxanthin and decreasing the levels of the primary carotenoids α-carotene, lutein, violaxanthin and β-carotene. Nitrogen starvation per se enhanced mRNA levels of all genes considered, except lcy-e and pds, but did not trigger the synthesis of astaxanthin, canthaxanthin nor zeaxanthin. The combined effect of both high light and nitrogen starvation stresses enhanced significantly the accumulation of these carotenoids as well as the transcript levels of bkt gene, as compared with the effect of only high irradiance stress.
PMCID: PMC3475274  PMID: 23118722
carotenoids; microalgae; lycopene cyclase genes; gene expression; gene regulation
20.  Elucidation of a Carotenoid Biosynthesis Gene Cluster Encoding a Novel Enzyme, 2,2′-β-Hydroxylase, from Brevundimonas sp. Strain SD212 and Combinatorial Biosynthesis of New or Rare Xanthophylls 
A carotenoid biosynthesis gene cluster mediating the production of 2-hydroxyastaxanthin was isolated from the marine bacterium Brevundimonas sp. strain SD212 by using a common crtI sequence as the probe DNA. A sequence analysis revealed this cluster to contain 12 open reading frames (ORFs), including the 7 known genes, crtW, crtY, crtI, crtB, crtE, idi, and crtZ. The individual ORFs were functionally analyzed by complementation studies using Escherichia coli that accumulated various carotenoid precursors due to the presence of other bacterial crt genes. In addition to functionally identifying the known crt genes, we found that one (ORF11, named crtG) coded for a novel enzyme, carotenoid 2,2′-β-hydroxylase, which showed intriguingly partial homology with animal sterol-C5-desaturase. When this crtG gene was introduced into E. coli accumulating zeaxanthin and canthaxanthin, the resulting transformants produced their 2-hydroxylated and 2,2′-dihydroxylated products which were structurally novel or rare xanthophylls, as determined by their nuclear magnetic resonance and high-performance liquid chromatography/photodiode array detector/atmospheric pressure chemical ionization mass spectrometry spectral data. The new carotenoid produced was suggested to have a strong inhibitory effect on lipid peroxidation.
PMCID: PMC1183362  PMID: 16085816
21.  Identification of a Lycopene β-Cyclase Required for Bacteriorhodopsin Biogenesis in the Archaeon Halobacterium salinarum 
Journal of Bacteriology  2002;184(11):2889-2897.
Biogenesis of the light-driven proton pump bacteriorhodopsin in the archaeon Halobacterium salinarum requires coordinate synthesis of the bacterioopsin apoprotein and carotenoid precursors of retinal, which serves as a covalently bound cofactor. As a step towards elucidating the mechanism and regulation of carotenoid metabolism during bacteriorhodopsin biogenesis, we have identified an H. salinarum gene required for conversion of lycopene to β-carotene, a retinal precursor. The gene, designated crtY, is predicted to encode an integral membrane protein homologous to lycopene β-cyclases identified in bacteria and fungi. To test crtY function, we constructed H. salinarum strains with in-frame deletions in the gene. In the deletion strains, bacteriorhodopsin, retinal, and β-carotene were undetectable, whereas lycopene accumulated to high levels (≈1.3 nmol/mg of total cell protein). Heterologous expression of H. salinarum crtY in a lycopene-producing Escherichia coli strain resulted in β-carotene production. These results indicate that H. salinarum crtY encodes a functional lycopene β-cyclase required for bacteriorhodopsin biogenesis. Comparative sequence analysis yields a topological model of the protein and provides a plausible evolutionary connection between heterodimeric lycopene cyclases in bacteria and bifunctional lycopene cyclase-phytoene synthases in fungi.
PMCID: PMC135044  PMID: 12003928
22.  Development of a multi-gene expression system in Xanthophyllomyces dendrorhous 
Microbial Cell Factories  2014;13(1):175.
Red yeast, Xanthophyllomyces dendrorhous (Phaffia rhodozyma) is the only yeast known to produce astaxanthin, an anti-oxidant isoprenoid (carotenoid) that is widely used in the aquaculture, food, pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries. Recently, the potential of this microorganism as a platform cell factory for isoprenoid production has been recognized because of high flux through its native terpene pathway. Addition of mevalonate, the common precursor for isoprenoid biosynthesis, has been shown to be critical to enhance the astaxanthin content in X. dendrorhous. However, addition of mevalonate is unrealistic during industrial isoprenoid production because it is an unstable and costly chemical. Therefore, up-regulating the intracellular mevalonate supply by enhancing the mevalonate synthetic pathway though genetic engineering is a promising strategy to improve isoprenoid production in X. dendrorhous. However, a system to strongly express multiple genes has been poorly developed for X. dendrorhous.
Here, we developed a multiple gene expression system using plasmids containing three strong promoters in X. dendrorhous (actin, alcohol dehydrogenase and triose-phosphate isomerase) and their terminators. Using this system, three mevalonate synthetic pathway genes encoding acetoacetyl-CoA thiolase, HMG-CoA synthase and HMG-CoA reductase were overexpressed at the same time. This triple overexpressing strain showed an increase in astaxanthin production compared with each single overexpressing strain. Additionally, this triple overexpression of mevalonate synthetic pathway genes together with genes involved in β-carotene and astaxanthin synthesis showed a synergetic effect on increasing astaxanthin production. Finally, astaxanthin production was enhanced by 2.1-fold compared with the parental strain without a reduction of cell growth.
We developed a system to strongly overexpress multiple genes in X. dendrorhous. Using this system, the synthetic pathway of mevalonate, a common substrate for isoprenoid biosynthesis, was enhanced, causing an increase in astaxanthin production. Combining this multiple gene overexpression system with a platform strain that overproduces mevalonate has the potential to improve industrial production of various isoprenoids in X. dendrorhous.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12934-014-0175-3) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4264253  PMID: 25471659
Isoprenoid; Carotenoid; Astaxanthin; Mevalonate; Xanthophyllomyces dendrorhous; Phaffia rhodozyma; Metabolic engineering; Cell factory
23.  From genetic improvement to commercial-scale mass culture of a Chilean strain of the green microalga Haematococcus pluvialis with enhanced productivity of the red ketocarotenoid astaxanthin 
AoB Plants  2013;5:plt026.
There is a great breach between research made at universities and applications of these “academic results” to commercial purposes. This research is a successful example of this interaction. We show that random mutagenesis/selection is an effective strategy for genetically improving strains of the astaxanthin-producing microalga, H. pluvialis and that improved carotenogenic capacity attained is maintained when the volume of the cultures is scaled up to a commercial size. This research allowed to the company dispose of an improved strain accumulating 30% more astaxanthin that the wild type strain (per dry weight basis) and a 72% more (per culture volume basis).
Astaxanthin is a red ketocarotenoid, widely used as a natural red colourant in marine fish aquaculture and poultry and, recently, as an antioxidant supplement for humans and animals. The green microalga Haematococcus pluvialis is one of the richest natural sources of this pigment. However, its slow growth rate and complex life cycle make mass culture difficult for commercial purposes. The aims of this research were (i) to standardize and apply a genetic improvement programme to a Chilean strain of H. pluvialis in order to improve its carotenogenic capacity and (ii) to evaluate the performance of a selected mutant strain in commercial-sized (125 000 L) open ponds in the north of Chile. Haematococcus pluvialis strain 114 was mutated by ethyl methanesulfonate. The level of mutagen dose (exposure time and concentration) was one that induced at least 90 % mortality. Surviving colonies were screened for resistance to the carotenoid biosynthesis inhibitor diphenylamine (25 µM). Resistant mutants were grown in a 30-mL volume for 30 days, after which the total carotenoid content was determined by spectrophotometry. Tens of mutants with improved carotenogenic capacity compared with the wild-type strain were isolated by the application of these standardized protocols. Some mutants exhibited curious morphological features such as spontaneous release of astaxanthin and loss of flagella. One of the mutants was grown outdoors in commercial-sized open ponds of 125 000 L in the north of Chile. Grown under similar conditions, the mutant strain accumulated 30 % more astaxanthin than the wild-type strain on a per dry weight basis and 72 % more on a per culture volume basis. We show that random mutagenesis/selection is an effective strategy for genetically improving strains of H. pluvialis and that improved carotenogenic capacity is maintained when the volume of the cultures is scaled up to a commercial size.
PMCID: PMC3687207  PMID: 23789055
Astaxanthin; commercial-sized open ponds; Haematococcus pluvialis mutant; North Chile; random mutagenesis.
24.  Expression of endoglucanases in Pichia pastoris under control of the GAP promoter 
Plant-derived biomass is a potential alternative to fossil feedstocks for a greener economy. Enzymatic saccharification of biomass has been studied extensively and endoglucanases have been found to be a prerequisite for quick initial liquefaction of biomass under industrial conditions. Pichia pastoris, widely used for heterologous protein expression, can be utilized for fungal endoglucanase production. The recently marketed PichiaPink™ expression system allows for rapid clone selection, and employs the methanol inducible AOX1 promoter to ensure high protein expression levels. However, methanol is toxic and poses a fire hazard, issues which become more significant at an industrial scale. It is possible to eliminate these risks and still maintain high productivity by switching to the constitutive GAP promoter.
In the present study, a plasmid carrying the constitutive GAP promoter was created for PichiaPink™. We then studied expression of two endoglucanases, AfCel12A from Aspergillus fumigatus and TaCel5A from Thermoascus aurantiacus, regulated by either the AOX1 promoter or the GAP promoter. Initial experiments in tubes and small bioreactors showed that the levels of AfCel12A obtained with the constitutive promoter were similar or higher, compared to the AOX1 promoter, whereas the levels of TaCel5A were somewhat lower. After optimization of cultivation conditions using a 15-l bioreactor, the recombinant P. pastoris strains utilizing the GAP promoter produced ca. 3–5 g/l of total secreted protein, with CMCase activity equivalent to 1200 nkat/ml AfCel12A and 170 nkat/ml TaCel5A.
We present a strategy for constitutive recombinant protein expression in the novel PichiaPink™ system. Both AfCel12A and TaCel5A were successfully expressed constitutively in P. pastoris under the GAP promoter. Reasonable protein levels were reached after optimizing cultivation conditions.
PMCID: PMC4021498  PMID: 24742273
Endoglucanase; Heterologous protein expression; Pichia pastoris; PichiaPink; AOX1 promoter; GAP promoter
25.  Isolation of Phaffia rhodozyma Mutants with Increased Astaxanthin Content 
Plating of the astaxanthin-producing yeast Phaffia rhodozyma onto yeast-malt agar containing 50 μM antimycin A gave rise to colonies of unusual morphology, characterized by a nonpigmented lower smooth surface that developed highly pigmented vertical papillae after 1 to 2 months. Isolation and purification of the pigmented papillae, followed by testing for pigment production in shake flasks, demonstrated that several antimycin isolates were increased two- to fivefold in astaxanthin content compared with the parental natural isolate (UCD-FST 67-385). One of the antimycin strains (ant-1) and a nitrosoguanidine derivative of ant-1 (ant-1-4) produced considerably more astaxanthin than the parent (ant-1 had 800 to 900 μg/g; ant-1-4 had 900 to 1,300 μg/g; and 67-385 had 300 to 450 μg/g). The mutant strains were compared physiologically with the parent. The antimycin mutants grew slower on ammonia, glutamate, or glutamine as nitrogen sources compared with the natural isolate and also had lower cell yields on several carbon sources. Although isolated on antimycin plates, they were found to be more susceptible to antimycin A, apparently owing to the spatial separation of the papillae from the agar. They were also more susceptible than the parent to the respiratory inhibitor thenoyltrifluoroacetone and were slightly more susceptible to cyanide, but did not differ from the natural isolate in susceptibility to azide. The antimycin-derived strains were also killed faster than the parent by hydrogen peroxide. The carotenoid compositions of the parent and the antimycin-derived strains were similar to those previously determined in the type strain (UCD-FST 67-210) except that two carotenoids not previously found in the type strain were present in increased quantities in the antimycin mutants and phoenicoxanthin was a minor component. The chemical properties of the unknown carotenoids suggested that the strains isolated on antimycin agar tended to oxygenate and desaturate carotene precursors to a greater extent than the parent. The physiology of the antimycin isolates and the known specificity of antimycin for cytochrome b in the respiratory chain suggests that alteration of cytochrome b or cytochrome P-450 components involved in oxygenation and desaturation of carotenes in mitochondria are affected, which results in increased astaxanthin production. These astaxanthin-overproducing mutants and more highly pigmented derivative strains could be useful in providing a natural source of astaxanthin for the pen-reared-salmon industry or for other farmed animals that contain astaxanthin as their principal carotenoid.
PMCID: PMC184064  PMID: 16347815

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