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Open Access Highly Accessed Research

Engineering of a plasmid-free Escherichia coli strain for improved in vivo biosynthesis of astaxanthin

Karin Lemuth1, Kristin Steuer2 and Christoph Albermann2*

Author Affiliations

1 Current Address: Fraunhofer IGB, Nobelstrasse 12, 70569 Stuttgart, Germany

2 Institute of Microbiology, Universität Stuttgart, Allmandring 31, 70569 Stuttgart, Germany

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Microbial Cell Factories 2011, 10:29  doi:10.1186/1475-2859-10-29

Published: 26 April 2011

Abstract

Background

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.

Results

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).

Conclusions

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.

Keywords:
astaxanthin; chromosomal integration; E. coli