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1.  Engineering E. coli–E. coli cocultures for production of muconic acid from glycerol 
cis, cis-Muconic acid is an important chemical that can be biosynthesized from simple substrates in engineered microorganisms. Recently, it has been shown that engineering microbial cocultures is an emerging and promising approach for biochemical production. In this study, we aim to explore the potential of the E. coli–E. coli coculture system to use a single renewable carbon source, glycerol, for the production of value-added product cis, cis-muconic acid.
Two coculture engineering strategies were investigated. In the first strategy, an E. coli strain containing the complete biosynthesis pathway was co-cultivated with another E. coli strain containing only a heterologous intermediate-to-product biosynthetic pathway. In the second strategy, the upstream and downstream pathways were accommodated in two separate E. coli strains, each of which was dedicated to one portion of the biosynthesis process. Compared with the monoculture approach, both coculture engineering strategies improved the production significantly. Using a batch bioreactor, the engineered coculture achieved a 2 g/L muconic acid production with a yield of 0.1 g/g.
Our results demonstrate that coculture engineering is a viable option for producing muconic acid from glycerol. Moreover, microbial coculture systems are shown to have the potential for converting single carbon source to value-added products.
PMCID: PMC4570557  PMID: 26369810
Metabolic engineering; E. coli; Coculture; Muconic acid; Glycerol
2.  Improved Gene Targeting through Cell Cycle Synchronization 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(7):e0133434.
Gene targeting is a challenge in organisms where non-homologous end-joining is the predominant form of recombination. We show that cell division cycle synchronization can be applied to significantly increase the rate of homologous recombination during transformation. Using hydroxyurea-mediated cell cycle arrest, we obtained improved gene targeting rates in Yarrowia lipolytica, Arxula adeninivorans, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Kluyveromyces lactis and Pichia pastoris demonstrating the broad applicability of the method. Hydroxyurea treatment enriches for S-phase cells that are active in homologous recombination and enables previously unattainable genomic modifications.
PMCID: PMC4507847  PMID: 26192309
3.  Fragment Formula Calculator (FFC): Determination of Chemical Formulas for Fragment Ions in Mass Spectrometric Data 
Analytical chemistry  2014;86(4):2221-2228.
The accurate determination of mass isotopomer distributions (MID) is of great significance for stable isotope-labeling experiments. Most commonly, MIDs are derived from gas chromatography/electron ionization mass spectrometry (GC/EI-MS) measurements. The analysis of fragment ions formed during EI, which contain only specific parts of the original molecule can provide valuable information on the positional distribution of the label. The chemical formula of a fragment ion is usually applied to derive the correction matrix for accurate MID calculation. Hence, the correct assignment of chemical formulas to fragment ions is of crucial importance for correct MIDs. Moreover, the positional distribution of stable isotopes within a fragment ion is of high interest for stable isotope-assisted metabolomics techniques. For example, 13C-metabolic flux analyses (13C-MFA) are dependent on the exact knowledge of the number and position of retained carbon atoms of the unfragmented molecule. Fragment ions containing different carbon atoms are of special interest, since they can carry different flux information. However, the process of mass spectral fragmentation is complex, and identifying the substructures and chemical formulas for these fragment ions is nontrivial. For that reason, we developed an algorithm, based on a systematic bond cleavage, to determine chemical formulas and retained atoms for EI derived fragment ions. Here, we present the fragment formula calculator (FFC) algorithm that can calculate chemical formulas for fragment ions where the chemical bonding (e.g., Lewis structures) of the intact molecule is known. The proposed algorithm is able to cope with general molecular rearrangement reactions occurring during EI in GC/MS measurements. The FFC algorithm is able to integrate stable isotope labeling experiments into the analysis and can automatically exclude candidate formulas that do not fit the observed labeling patterns.1 We applied the FFC algorithm to create a fragment ion repository that contains the chemical formulas and retained carbon atoms of a wide range of trimethylsilyl and tertbutyldimethylsilyl derivatized compounds. In total, we report the chemical formulas and backbone carbon compositions for 160 fragment ions of 43 alkylsilyl-derivatives of primary metabolites. Finally, we implemented the FFC algorithm in an easy-to-use graphical user interface and made it publicly available at
PMCID: PMC4440337  PMID: 24498896
4.  Microfluidic high-throughput culturing of single cells for selection based on extracellular metabolite production or consumption 
Nature biotechnology  2014;32(5):473-478.
Phenotyping single cells based on the products they secrete or consume is a key bottleneck in many biotechnology applications, such as combinatorial metabolic engineering for the overproduction of secreted metabolites. Here we present a flexible high-throughput approach that uses microfluidics to compartmentalize individual cells for growth and analysis in monodisperse nanoliter aqueous droplets surrounded by an immiscible fluorinated oil phase. We use this system to identify xylose-overconsuming Saccharomyces cerevisiae cells from a population containing one such cell per 104 cells and to screen a genomic library to identify multiple copies of the xylose isomerase gene as a genomic change contributing to high xylose consumption, a trait important for lignocellulosic feedstock utilization. We also enriched L-lactate–producing Escherichia coli clones 5,800× from a population containing one L-lactate producer per 104 D-lactate producers. Our approach has broad applications for single-cell analyses, such as in strain selection for the overproduction of fuels, chemicals and pharmaceuticals.
PMCID: PMC4412259  PMID: 24705516
5.  Engineering alcohol tolerance in yeast 
Science (New York, N.Y.)  2014;346(6205):71-75.
Ethanol toxicity in yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae limits titer and productivity in the industrial production of transportation bioethanol. We show that strengthening the opposing potassium and proton electrochemical membrane gradients is a mechanism that enhances general resistance to multiple alcohols. Elevation of extracellular potassium and pH physically bolster these gradients, increasing tolerance to higher alcohols and ethanol fermentation in commercial and laboratory strains (including a xylose-fermenting strain) under industrial-like conditions. Production per cell remains largely unchanged with improvements deriving from heightened population viability. Likewise, up-regulation of the potassium and proton pumps in the laboratory strain enhances performance to levels exceeding industrial strains. Although genetically complex, alcohol tolerance can thus be dominated by a single cellular process, one controlled by a major physicochemical component but amenable to biological augmentation.
PMCID: PMC4401034  PMID: 25278607
6.  Review of methods to probe single cell metabolism and bioenergetics 
Metabolic engineering  2014;27:115-135.
Single cell investigations have enabled unexpected discoveries, such as the existence of biological noise and phenotypic switching in infection, metabolism and treatment. Herein, we review methods that enable such single cell investigations specific to metabolism and bioenergetics. Firstly, we discuss how to isolate and immobilize individuals from a cell suspension, including both permanent and reversible approaches. We also highlight specific advances in microbiology for its implications in metabolic engineering. Methods for probing single cell physiology and metabolism are subsequently reviewed. The primary focus therein is on dynamic and high-content profiling strategies based on label-free and fluorescence microspectroscopy and microscopy. Non-dynamic approaches, such as mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance, are also briefly discussed.
PMCID: PMC4399830  PMID: 25448400
Single cell analysis; Metabolism; Bioenergetics; Microfluidics; Microscopy
7.  13C Isotope-Assisted Methods for Quantifying Glutamine Metabolism in Cancer Cells 
Methods in enzymology  2014;542:369-389.
Glutamine has recently emerged as a key substrate to support cancer cell proliferation, and the quantification of its metabolic flux is essential to understand the mechanisms by which this amino acid participates in the metabolic rewiring that sustains the survival and growth of neoplastic cells. Glutamine metabolism involves two major routes, glutaminolysis and reductive carboxylation, both of which begin with the deamination of glutamine to glutamate and the conversion of glutamate into α-ketoglutarate. In glutaminolysis, α-ketoglutarate is oxidized via the tricarboxylic acid cycle and decarboxylated to pyruvate. In reductive carboxylation, α-ketoglutarate is reductively converted into isocitrate, which is isomerized to citrate to supply acetyl-CoA for de novo lipogenesis. Here, we describe methods to quantify the metabolic flux of glutamine through these two routes, as well as the contribution of glutamine to lipid synthesis. Examples of how these methods can be applied to study metabolic pathways of oncological relevance are provided.
PMCID: PMC4392845  PMID: 24862276
8.  Hepatic Insulin Resistance is Sufficient to Produce Dyslipidemia and Susceptibility to Atherosclerosis 
Cell metabolism  2008;7(2):125-134.
Insulin resistance plays a central role in the development of the metabolic syndrome, but how it relates to cardiovascular disease remains controversial. Liver insulin receptor knockout (LIRKO) mice have pure hepatic insulin resistance. On a chow diet, LIRKO mice have a proatherogenic lipoprotein profile with reduced HDL cholesterol and VLDL particles that are markedly enriched in cholesterol. This is due to increased secretion and decreased clearance of apoB-containing lipoproteins, coupled with decreased triglyceride secretion secondary to increased expression of PGC-1β, which promotes VLDL secretion, but decreased expression of SREBP-1c, SREBP-2 and their targets, the lipogenic enzymes and the LDL receptor. Within twelve weeks on an atherogenic diet, LIRKO mice show marked hypercholesterolemia, and 100% of LIRKO mice, but 0% of controls, develop severe atherosclerosis. Thus, insulin resistance at the level of the liver is sufficient to produce the dyslipidemia and increased risk of atherosclerosis associated with the metabolic syndrome.
PMCID: PMC4251554  PMID: 18249172
9.  Metformin decreases glucose oxidation and increases the dependency of prostate cancer cells on reductive glutamine metabolism 
Cancer research  2013;73(14):4429-4438.
Metformin inhibits cancer cell proliferation and epidemiology studies suggest an association with increased survival in cancer patients taking metformin, however, the mechanism by which metformin improves cancer outcomes remains controversial. To explore how metformin might directly affect cancer cells, we analyzed how metformin altered the metabolism of prostate cancer cells and tumors. We found that metformin decreased glucose oxidation and increased dependency on reductive glutamine metabolism in both cancer cell lines and in a mouse model of prostate cancer. Inhibition of glutamine anaplerosis in the presence of metformin further attenuated proliferation while increasing glutamine metabolism rescued the proliferative defect induced by metformin. These data suggest that interfering with glutamine may synergize with metformin to improve outcomes in patients with prostate cancer.
PMCID: PMC3930683  PMID: 23687346
10.  Kinetic isotope effects significantly influence intracellular metabolite 13C labeling patterns and flux determination 
Biotechnology journal  2013;8(9):1080-1089.
Rigorous mathematical modeling of carbon-labeling experiments allows estimation of fluxes through the pathways of central carbon metabolism, yielding powerful information for basic scientific studies as well as for a wide range of applications. However, the mathematical models that have been developed for flux determination from 13C labeling data have commonly neglected the influence of kinetic isotope effects on the distribution of 13C label in intracellular metabolites, as these effects have often been assumed to be inconsequential. We have used measurements of the 13C isotope effects on the pyruvate dehydrogenase enzyme from the literature to model isotopic fractionation at the pyruvate node and quantify the modeling errors expected to result from the assumption that isotope effects are negligible. We show that under some conditions kinetic isotope effects have a significant impact on the 13C labeling patterns of intracellular metabolites, and the errors associated with neglecting isotope effects in 13C-metabolic flux analysis models can be comparable in size to measurement errors associated with GC–MS. Thus, kinetic isotope effects must be considered in any rigorous assessment of errors in 13C labeling data, goodness-of-fit between model and data, confidence intervals of estimated metabolic fluxes, and statistical significance of differences between estimated metabolic flux distributions.
PMCID: PMC4045492  PMID: 23828762
Isotope Effects; Isotopomer Modeling; Metabolic Engineering; Metabolic Flux Analysis; Modeling errors
13.  The mTORC1 pathway stimulates glutamine metabolism and cell proliferation by repressing SIRT4 
Cell  2013;153(4):840-854.
Proliferating mammalian cells use glutamine as a source of nitrogen and as a key anaplerotic source to provide metabolites to the tricarboxylic acid cycle (TCA) for biosynthesis. Recently, mTORC1 activation has been correlated with increased nutrient uptake and metabolism, but no molecular connection to glutaminolysis has been reported. Here, we show that mTORC1 promotes glutamine anaplerosis by activating glutamate dehydrogenase (GDH). This regulation requires transcriptional repression of SIRT4, the mitochondrial-localized sirtuin that inhibits GDH. Mechanistically, mTORC1 represses SIRT4 by promoting the proteasome-mediated destabilization of cAMP response element binding-2 (CREB2). Thus, a relationship between mTORC1, SIRT4 and cancer is suggested by our findings. Indeed, SIRT4 expression is reduced in human cancer, and its overexpression reduces cell proliferation, transformation and tumor development. Finally, our data indicate that targeting nutrient metabolism in energy-addicted cancers with high mTORC1 signaling may be an effective therapeutic approach.
PMCID: PMC3684628  PMID: 23663782
14.  In Vivo HIF-Mediated Reductive Carboxylation Is Regulated by Citrate Levels and Sensitizes VHL-Deficient Cells to Glutamine Deprivation 
Cell metabolism  2013;17(3):372-385.
Hypoxic and VHL-deficient cells use glutamine to generate citrate and lipids through reductive carboxylation (RC) of α-ketoglutarate. To gain insights into the role of HIF and the molecular mechanisms underlying RC, we took advantage of a panel of disease-associated VHL mutants and showed that HIF expression is necessary and sufficient for the induction of RC in human renal cell carcinoma (RCC) cells. HIF expression drastically reduced intracellular citrate levels. Feeding VHL-deficient RCC cells with acetate or citrate or knocking down PDK-1 and ACLY restored citrate levels and suppressed RC. These data suggest that HIF-induced low intracellular citrate levels promote the reductive flux by mass action to maintain lipogenesis. Using [1–13C] glutamine, we demonstrated in vivo RC activity in VHL-deficient tumors growing as xenografts in mice. Lastly, HIF rendered VHL-deficient cells sensitive to glutamine deprivation in vitro, and systemic administration of glutaminase inhibitors suppressed the growth of RCC cells as mice xenografts.
PMCID: PMC4003458  PMID: 23473032
15.  Reductive glutamine metabolism is a function of the α-ketoglutarate to citrate ratio in cells 
Nature communications  2013;4:2236.
Reductively metabolized glutamine is a major cellular carbon source for fatty acid synthesis during hypoxia or when mitochondrial respiration is impaired. Yet, a mechanistic understanding of what determines reductive metabolism is missing. Here we identify several cellular conditions where the α-ketoglutarate/citrate ratio is changed due to altered acetyl-CoA to citrate conversion, and demonstrate that reductive glutamine metabolism is initiated in response to perturbations that results in an increase in the α-ketoglutarate/citrate ratio. Thus, targeting reductive glutamine conversion for a therapeutic benefit might require distinct modulations of metabolite concentrations rather than targeting the upstream signaling, which only indirectly affects the process.
PMCID: PMC3934748  PMID: 23900562
16.  c-Jun N-terminal kinase in synergistic neurite outgrowth in PC12 cells mediated through P90RSK 
BMC Neuroscience  2013;14:153.
Synergistic multi-ligand treatments that can induce neuronal differentiation offer valuable strategies to regulate and modulate neurite outgrowth. Whereas the signaling pathways mediating single ligand-induced neurite outgrowth, such as Akt, extracellular signal-regulated kinase (Erk), c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK), and p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (P38), have been extensively studied, the mechanisms underlying multi-ligand synergistic neurite outgrowth are poorly understood. In an attempt to gain insight into synergistic neurite outgrowth, PC12 cells were treated with one of three combinations: pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating peptide (PACAP) with epidermal growth factor (EP), basic fibroblast growth factor (FP), or nerve growth factor (NP) and then challenged with the appropriate kinase inhibitors to assess the signaling pathways involved in the process.
Response surface analyses indicated that synergistic neurite outgrowth was regulated by distinct pathways in these systems. Synergistic increases in the phosphorylation of Erk and JNK, but not Akt or P38, were observed with the three growth factor-PACAP combinations. Unexpectedly, we identified a synergistic increase in JNK phosphorylation, which was involved in neurite outgrowth in the NP and FP, but not EP, systems. Inhibition of JNK using the SP600125 inhibitor reduced phosphorylation of 90 kDa ribosomal S6 kinase (P90RSK) in the NP and FP, but not EP, systems. This suggested the involvement of P90RSK in mediating the differential effects of JNK in synergistic neurite outgrowth.
Taken together, these findings reveal the involvement of distinct signaling pathways in regulating neurite outgrowth in response to different synergistic growth factor-PACAP treatments. Our findings demonstrate a hitherto unrecognized mechanism of JNK-P90RSK in mediating synergistic neurite outgrowth induced by the co-treatment of growth factors and PACAP.
PMCID: PMC4029309  PMID: 24330599
PC12; Synergistic; NGF; FGFb; EGF; PACAP; Neurite outgrowth; JNK; P90RSK
17.  Statistical Experimental Design Guided Optimization of a One-Pot Biphasic Multienzyme Total Synthesis of Amorpha-4,11-diene 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(11):e79650.
In vitro synthesis of chemicals and pharmaceuticals using enzymes is of considerable interest as these biocatalysts facilitate a wide variety of reactions under mild conditions with excellent regio-, chemo- and stereoselectivities. A significant challenge in a multi-enzymatic reaction is the need to optimize the various steps involved simultaneously so as to obtain high-yield of a product. In this study, statistical experimental design was used to guide the optimization of a total synthesis of amorpha-4,11-diene (AD) using multienzymes in the mevalonate pathway. A combinatorial approach guided by Taguchi orthogonal array design identified the local optimum enzymatic activity ratio for Erg12:Erg8:Erg19:Idi:IspA to be 100∶100∶1∶25∶5, with a constant concentration of amorpha-4,11-diene synthase (Ads, 100 mg/L). The model also identified an unexpected inhibitory effect of farnesyl pyrophosphate synthase (IspA), where the activity was negatively correlated with AD yield. This was due to the precipitation of farnesyl pyrophosphate (FPP), the product of IspA. Response surface methodology was then used to optimize IspA and Ads activities simultaneously so as to minimize the accumulation of FPP and the result showed that Ads to be a critical factor. By increasing the concentration of Ads, a complete conversion (∼100%) of mevalonic acid (MVA) to AD was achieved. Monovalent ions and pH were effective means of enhancing the specific Ads activity and specific AD yield significantly. The results from this study represent the first in vitro reconstitution of the mevalonate pathway for the production of an isoprenoid and the approaches developed herein may be used to produce other isopentenyl pyrophosphate (IPP)/dimethylallyl pyrophosphate (DMAPP) based products.
PMCID: PMC3835790  PMID: 24278153
18.  Combinatorial Engineering of 1-Deoxy-D-Xylulose 5-Phosphate Pathway Using Cross-Lapping In Vitro Assembly (CLIVA) Method 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(11):e79557.
The ability to assemble multiple fragments of DNA into a plasmid in a single step is invaluable to studies in metabolic engineering and synthetic biology. Using phosphorothioate chemistry for high efficiency and site specific cleavage of sequences, a novel ligase independent cloning method (cross-lapping in vitro assembly, CLIVA) was systematically and rationally optimized in E. coli. A series of 16 constructs combinatorially expressing genes encoding enzymes in the 1-deoxy-D-xylulose 5-phosphate (DXP) pathway were assembled using multiple DNA modules. A plasmid (21.6 kb) containing 16 pathway genes, was successfully assembled from 7 modules with high efficiency (2.0 x 103 cfu/ µg input DNA) within 2 days. Overexpressions of these constructs revealed the unanticipated inhibitory effects of certain combinations of genes on the production of amorphadiene. Interestingly, the inhibitory effects were correlated to the increase in the accumulation of intracellular methylerythritol cyclodiphosphate (MEC), an intermediate metabolite in the DXP pathway. The overexpression of the iron sulfur cluster operon was found to modestly increase the production of amorphadiene. This study demonstrated the utility of CLIVA in the assembly of multiple fragments of DNA into a plasmid which enabled the rapid exploration of biological pathways.
PMCID: PMC3818232  PMID: 24223968
19.  Expanding the Concepts and Tools of Metabolic Engineering to Elucidate Cancer Metabolism 
Biotechnology progress  2012;28(6):1409-1418.
The metabolic engineer's toolbox, comprising stable isotope tracers, flux estimation and analysis, pathway identification, and pathway kinetics and regulation, among other techniques, has long been used to elucidate and quantify pathways primarily in the context of engineering microbes for producing small molecules of interest. Recently, these tools are increasingly finding use in cancer biology due to their unparalleled capacity for quantifying intracellular metabolism of mammalian cells. Here we review basic concepts that are used to derive useful insights about the metabolism of tumor cells, along with a number of illustrative examples highlighting the fundamental contributions of these methods to elucidating cancer cell metabolism. This area presents unique opportunities for metabolic engineering to expand its portfolio of applications into the realm of cancer biology and help develop new cancer therapies based on a new class of metabolically derived targets.
PMCID: PMC3586222  PMID: 22961737
20.  Combining Genotype Improvement and Statistical Media Optimization for Isoprenoid Production in E. coli 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e75164.
Isoprenoids are a large and diverse class of compounds that includes many high value natural products and are thus in great demand. To meet the increasing demand for isoprenoid compounds, metabolic engineering of microbes has been used to produce isoprenoids in an economical and sustainable manner. To achieve high isoprenoid yields using this technology, the availability of metabolic precursors feeding the deoxyxylulose phosphate (DXP) pathway, responsible for isoprenoid biosynthesis, has to be optimized. In this study, phosphoenolpyruvate, a vital DXP pathway precursor, was enriched by deleting the genes encoding the carbohydrate phosphotransferase system (PTS) in E. coli. Production of lycopene (a C40 isoprenoid) was maximized by optimizing growth medium and culture conditions. In optimized conditions, the lycopene yield from PTS mutant was seven fold higher than that obtained from the wild type strain. This resulted in the highest reported specific yield of lycopene produced from the DXP pathway in E. coli to date (20,000 µg/g dry cell weight). Both the copy number of the plasmid encoding the lycopene biosynthetic genes and the expression were found to be increased in the optimized media. Deletion of PTS together with a similar optimization strategy was also successful in enhancing the production of amorpha-1,4-diene, a distinct C15 isoprenoid, suggesting that the approaches developed herein can be generally applied to optimize production of other isoprenoids.
PMCID: PMC3790805  PMID: 24124471
21.  Compartmentalization of metabolic pathways in yeast mitochondria improves production of branched chain alcohols 
Nature biotechnology  2013;31(4):335-341.
Efforts to improve the production of a compound of interest in Saccharomyces cerevisiae have mainly involved engineering or overexpression of cytoplasmic enzymes. We show that targeted expression of metabolic pathways to mitochondria can increase production levels compared with expression of the same pathways in the cytoplasm. Compartmentalisation of the Ehrlich pathway into mitochondria increased isobutanol production by 260%, whereas overexpression of the same pathway in the cytoplasm only improved yields by 10%, compared with a strain overexpressing only the first three steps of the biosynthetic pathway. Subcellular fractionation of engineered strains reveals that targeting the enzymes of the Ehrlich pathway to the mitochondria achieves higher local enzyme concentrations. Other benefits of compartmentalization may include increased availability of intermediates, removing the need to transport intermediates out of the mitochondrion, and reducing the loss of intermediates to competing pathways.
PMCID: PMC3659820  PMID: 23417095
22.  Pyruvate kinase M2 activators promote tetramer formation and suppress tumorigenesis 
Nature chemical biology  2012;8(10):839-847.
Cancer cells engage in a metabolic program to enhance biosynthesis and support cell proliferation. The regulatory properties of pyruvate kinase M2 (PKM2) influence altered glucose metabolism in cancer. PKM2 interaction with phosphotyrosine-containing proteins inhibits enzyme activity and increases availability of glycolytic metabolites to support cell proliferation. This suggests that high pyruvate kinase activity may suppress tumor growth. We show that expression of PKM1, the pyruvate kinase isoform with high constitutive activity, or exposure to published small molecule PKM2 activators inhibit growth of xenograft tumors. Structural studies reveal that small molecule activators bind PKM2 at the subunit interaction interface, a site distinct from that of the endogenous activator fructose-1,6-bisphosphate (FBP). However, unlike FBP, binding of activators to PKM2 promotes a constitutively active enzyme state that is resistant to inhibition by tyrosine-phosphorylated proteins. These data support the notion that small molecule activation of PKM2 can interfere with anabolic metabolism.
PMCID: PMC3711671  PMID: 22922757
23.  Reductive glutamine metabolism by IDH1 mediates lipogenesis under hypoxia 
Nature  2011;481(7381):380-384.
Acetyl coenzyme A (AcCoA) is the central biosynthetic precursor for fatty acid synthesis and protein acetylation. In the conventional view of mammalian cell metabolism, AcCoA is primarily generated from glucose-derived pyruvate through the citrate shuttle and adenosine triphosphate citrate lyase (ACL) in the cytosol1-3. However, proliferating cells that exhibit aerobic glycolysis and those exposed to hypoxia convert glucose to lactate at near stoichiometric levels, directing glucose carbon away from the tricarboxylic acid cycle (TCA) and fatty acid synthesis4. Although glutamine is consumed at levels exceeding that required for nitrogen biosynthesis5, the regulation and utilization of glutamine metabolism in hypoxic cells is not well understood. Here we show that human cells employ reductive metabolism of alpha-ketoglutarate (αKG) to synthesize AcCoA for lipid synthesis. This isocitrate dehydrogenase 1 (IDH1) dependent pathway is active in most cell lines under normal culture conditions, but cells grown under hypoxia rely almost exclusively on the reductive carboxylation of glutamine-derived αKG for de novo lipogenesis. Furthermore, renal cell lines deficient in the von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) tumor suppressor protein preferentially utilize reductive glutamine metabolism for lipid biosynthesis even at normal oxygen levels. These results identify a critical role for oxygen in regulating carbon utilization in order to produce AcCoA and support lipid synthesis in mammalian cells.
PMCID: PMC3710581  PMID: 22101433
24.  Phosphoglycerate dehydrogenase diverts glycolytic flux and contributes to oncogenesis 
Nature genetics  2011;43(9):869-874.
Most tumors display increased glucose metabolism compared to that of normal tissues. The preferential conversion of glucose to lactate in cancer cells (the Warburg Effect) has been emphasized1; however, the extent to which metabolic fluxes originating from glucose are utilized for alternative processes is poorly understood2,3. Here we used a combination of mass spectrometry and NMR with stable isotope labeling to investigate the alternate pathways derived from glucose metabolism in cancer cells. We found that in some cancer cells, a relatively large amount of glycolytic carbon is diverted into serine and glycine biosynthesis through phosphoglycerate dehydrogenase (PHGDH). A bioinformatics analysis of 3131 human cancers revealed that the gene PHGDH at 1p12 is recurrently amplified in a genomic region of focal copy number gain most commonly found in melanoma in which amplification was associated with increased protein expression. Decreased PHGDH expression by RNA interference impaired growth and flux into serine metabolism in PHGDH-amplified cell lines. Increased expression was also associated with breast cancer subtypes and ectopic expression of PHGDH in mammary epithelial cells (MCF-10a) disrupted acinar morphogenesis, induced loss of polarity, and preserved the viability of the extracellular matrix-deprived cells, each being phenotypic alterations that may predispose cells to transformation. Our findings demonstrate that altered metabolic flux from glucose into a specific alternate pathway can be selected during tumor development and may contribute to the pathogenesis of human cancer.
PMCID: PMC3677549  PMID: 21804546
25.  The Future of Metabolic Engineering and Synthetic Biology: Towards a Systematic Practice 
Metabolic engineering  2012;14(3):233-241.
Industrial biotechnology promises to revolutionize conventional chemical manufacturing in the years ahead, largely owing to the excellent progress in our ability to re-engineer cellular metabolism. However, most successes of metabolic engineering have been confined to over-producing natively synthesized metabolites in E. coli and S. cerevisiae. A major reason for this development has been the descent of metabolic engineering, particularly secondary metabolic engineering, to a collection of demonstrations rather than a systematic practice with generalizable tools. Synthetic biology, a more recent development, faces similar criticisms. Herein, we attempt to lay down a framework around which bioreaction engineering can systematize itself just like chemical reaction engineering. Central to this undertaking is a new approach to engineering secondary metabolism known as ‘multivariate modular metabolic engineering’ (MMME), whose novelty lies in its assessment and elimination of regulatory and pathway bottlenecks by re-defining the metabolic network as a collection of distinct modules. After introducing the core principles of MMME, we shall then present a number of recent developments in secondary metabolic engineering that could potentially serve as its facilitators. It is hoped that the ever-declining costs of de novo gene synthesis; the improved use of bioinformatic tools to mine, sort and analyze biological data; and the increasing sensitivity and sophistication of investigational tools will make the maturation of microbial metabolic engineering an autocatalytic process. Encouraged by these advances, research groups across the world would take up the challenge of secondary metabolite production in simple hosts with renewed vigor, thereby adding to the range of products synthesized using metabolic engineering.
PMCID: PMC3615475  PMID: 22629571
Metabolic Engineering; Synthetic Biology; Multivariate Analysis; Modularization; Natural Products; Secondary Metabolic Pathways; Terpenoids

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