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1.  Identification and microbial production of a terpene-based advanced biofuel 
Nature Communications  2011;2:483-.
Rising petroleum costs, trade imbalances and environmental concerns have stimulated efforts to advance the microbial production of fuels from lignocellulosic biomass. Here we identify a novel biosynthetic alternative to D2 diesel fuel, bisabolane, and engineer microbial platforms for the production of its immediate precursor, bisabolene. First, we identify bisabolane as an alternative to D2 diesel by measuring the fuel properties of chemically hydrogenated commercial bisabolene. Then, via a combination of enzyme screening and metabolic engineering, we obtain a more than tenfold increase in bisabolene titers in Escherichia coli to >900 mg l−1. We produce bisabolene in Saccharomyces cerevisiae (>900 mg l−1), a widely used platform for the production of ethanol. Finally, we chemically hydrogenate biosynthetic bisabolene into bisabolane. This work presents a framework for the identification of novel terpene-based advanced biofuels and the rapid engineering of microbial farnesyl diphosphate-overproducing platforms for the production of biofuels.
Advanced biofuels with comparable properties to petroleum-based fuels could be microbially produced from lignocellulosic biomass. In this study, Escherichia coli is engineered to produce bisabolene, the immediate precursor of bisabolane, a biosynthetic alternative to D2 diesel.
PMCID: PMC3195254  PMID: 21952217
2.  Gene family structure, expression and functional analysis of HD-Zip III genes in angiosperm and gymnosperm forest trees 
BMC Plant Biology  2010;10:273.
Class III Homeodomain Leucine Zipper (HD-Zip III) proteins have been implicated in the regulation of cambium identity, as well as primary and secondary vascular differentiation and patterning in herbaceous plants. They have been proposed to regulate wood formation but relatively little evidence is available to validate such a role. We characterised and compared HD-Zip III gene family in an angiosperm tree, Populus spp. (poplar), and the gymnosperm Picea glauca (white spruce), representing two highly evolutionarily divergent groups.
Full-length cDNA sequences were isolated from poplar and white spruce. Phylogenetic reconstruction indicated that some of the gymnosperm sequences were derived from lineages that diverged earlier than angiosperm sequences, and seem to have been lost in angiosperm lineages. Transcript accumulation profiles were assessed by RT-qPCR on tissue panels from both species and in poplar trees in response to an inhibitor of polar auxin transport. The overall transcript profiles HD-Zip III complexes in white spruce and poplar exhibited substantial differences, reflecting their evolutionary history. Furthermore, two poplar sequences homologous to HD-Zip III genes involved in xylem development in Arabidopsis and Zinnia were over-expressed in poplar plants. PtaHB1 over-expression produced noticeable effects on petiole and primary shoot fibre development, suggesting that PtaHB1 is involved in primary xylem development. We also obtained evidence indicating that expression of PtaHB1 affected the transcriptome by altering the accumulation of 48 distinct transcripts, many of which are predicted to be involved in growth and cell wall synthesis. Most of them were down-regulated, as was the case for several of the poplar HD-Zip III sequences. No visible physiological effect of over-expression was observed on PtaHB7 transgenic trees, suggesting that PtaHB1 and PtaHB7 likely have distinct roles in tree development, which is in agreement with the functions that have been assigned to close homologs in herbaceous plants.
This study provides an overview of HD-zip III genes related to woody plant development and identifies sequences putatively involved in secondary vascular growth in angiosperms and in gymnosperms. These gene sequences are candidate regulators of wood formation and could be a source of molecular markers for tree breeding related to wood properties.
PMCID: PMC3017839  PMID: 21143995
3.  A rapid and inexpensive labeling method for microarray gene expression analysis 
BMC Biotechnology  2009;9:97.
Global gene expression profiling by DNA microarrays is an invaluable tool in biological research. However, existing labeling methods are time consuming and costly and therefore often limit the scale of microarray experiments and sample throughput. Here we introduce a new, fast, inexpensive method for direct random-primed fluorescent labeling of eukaryotic cDNA for gene expression analysis and compare the results obtained on the NimbleGen microarray platform with two other widely-used labeling methods, namely the NimbleGen-recommended double-stranded cDNA protocol and the indirect (aminoallyl) method.
Two total RNA samples were labeled with each method and hybridized to NimbleGen expression arrays. Although all methods tested here provided similar global results and biological conclusions, the new direct random-primed cDNA labeling method provided slightly better correlation between replicates compared to the other methods and thus increased ability to find statistically significant differentially expressed genes.
The new direct random-primed cDNA labeling method introduced here is suitable for gene expression microarrays and provides a rapid, inexpensive alternative to existing methods. Using NimbleGen microarrays, the method produced excellent results comparable to those obtained with other methods. However, the simplicity and cost-effectiveness of the new method allows for increased sample throughput in microarray experiments and makes the process amenable to automation with a relatively simple liquid handling system.
PMCID: PMC2790446  PMID: 19939278
4.  Metabolic engineering of Saccharomyces cerevisiae for the production of n-butanol 
Increasing energy costs and environmental concerns have motivated engineering microbes for the production of "second generation" biofuels that have better properties than ethanol.
Results and conclusion
Saccharomyces cerevisiae was engineered with an n-butanol biosynthetic pathway, in which isozymes from a number of different organisms (S. cerevisiae, Escherichia coli, Clostridium beijerinckii, and Ralstonia eutropha) were substituted for the Clostridial enzymes and their effect on n-butanol production was compared. By choosing the appropriate isozymes, we were able to improve production of n-butanol ten-fold to 2.5 mg/L. The most productive strains harbored the C. beijerinckii 3-hydroxybutyryl-CoA dehydrogenase, which uses NADH as a co-factor, rather than the R. eutropha isozyme, which uses NADPH, and the acetoacetyl-CoA transferase from S. cerevisiae or E. coli rather than that from R. eutropha. Surprisingly, expression of the genes encoding the butyryl-CoA dehydrogenase from C. beijerinckii (bcd and etfAB) did not improve butanol production significantly as previously reported in E. coli. Using metabolite analysis, we were able to determine which steps in the n-butanol biosynthetic pathway were the most problematic and ripe for future improvement.
PMCID: PMC2621116  PMID: 19055772
5.  Induction of multiple pleiotropic drug resistance genes in yeast engineered to produce an increased level of anti-malarial drug precursor, artemisinic acid 
BMC Biotechnology  2008;8:83.
Due to the global occurrence of multi-drug-resistant malarial parasites (Plasmodium falciparum), the anti-malarial drug most effective against malaria is artemisinin, a natural product (sesquiterpene lactone endoperoxide) extracted from sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua). However, artemisinin is in short supply and unaffordable to most malaria patients. Artemisinin can be semi-synthesized from its precursor artemisinic acid, which can be synthesized from simple sugars using microorganisms genetically engineered with genes from A. annua. In order to develop an industrially competent yeast strain, detailed analyses of microbial physiology and development of gene expression strategies are required.
Three plant genes coding for amorphadiene synthase, amorphadiene oxidase (AMO or CYP71AV1), and cytochrome P450 reductase, which in concert divert carbon flux from farnesyl diphosphate to artemisinic acid, were expressed from a single plasmid. The artemisinic acid production in the engineered yeast reached 250 μg mL-1 in shake-flask cultures and 1 g L-1 in bio-reactors with the use of Leu2d selection marker and appropriate medium formulation. When plasmid stability was measured, the yeast strain synthesizing amorphadiene alone maintained the plasmid in 84% of the cells, whereas the yeast strain synthesizing artemisinic acid showed poor plasmid stability. Inactivation of AMO by a point-mutation restored the high plasmid stability, indicating that the low plasmid stability is not caused by production of the AMO protein but by artemisinic acid synthesis or accumulation. Semi-quantitative reverse-transcriptase (RT)-PCR and quantitative real time-PCR consistently showed that pleiotropic drug resistance (PDR) genes, belonging to the family of ATP-Binding Cassette (ABC) transporter, were massively induced in the yeast strain producing artemisinic acid, relative to the yeast strain producing the hydrocarbon amorphadiene alone. Global transcriptional analysis by yeast microarray further demonstrated that the induction of drug-resistant genes such as ABC transporters and major facilitator superfamily (MSF) genes is the primary cellular stress-response; in addition, oxidative and osmotic stress responses were observed in the engineered yeast.
The data presented here suggest that the engineered yeast producing artemisinic acid suffers oxidative and drug-associated stresses. The use of plant-derived transporters and optimizing AMO activity may improve the yield of artemisinic acid production in the engineered yeast.
PMCID: PMC2588579  PMID: 18983675

Results 1-5 (5)