Open Access Research

Whole cell biosynthesis of a functional oligosaccharide, 2′-fucosyllactose, using engineered Escherichia coli

Won-Heong Lee124, Panchalee Pathanibul1, Josh Quarterman1, Jung-Hyun Jo4, Nam Soo Han3, Michael J Miller1, Yong-Su Jin12* and Jin-Ho Seo4*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL, 61801, USA

2 Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL, 61801, USA

3 Department of Food Science and Technology, Chungbuk National University, Cheongju, 361-763, Korea

4 Department of Agricultural Biotechnology and Center for Agricultural Biomaterials, Seoul National University, Seoul, 151-921, Korea

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Microbial Cell Factories 2012, 11:48  doi:10.1186/1475-2859-11-48

Published: 30 April 2012



2'-Fucosyllactose (2-FL) is a functional oligosaccharide present in human milk which protects against the infection of enteric pathogens. Because 2-FL can be synthesized through the enzymatic fucosylation of lactose with guanosine 5′-diphosphate (GDP)-L-fucose by α-1,2-fucosyltransferase (FucT2), an 2-FL producing Escherichia coli can be constructed through overexpressing genes coding for endogenous GDP- L-fucose biosynthetic enzymes and heterologous fucosyltransferase.


The gene for FucT2 from Helicobacter pylori was introduced to the GDP- L-fucose producing recombinant E. coli BL21 star(DE3) strain. However, only small amount of 2-FL was produced in a batch fermentation because the E. coli BL21star(DE3) strain assimilated lactose instead of converting to 2-FL. As an alternative host, the E. coli JM109(DE3) strain which is incapable of assimilating lactose was chosen as a 2-FL producer. Whole cell biosynthesis of 2-FL from lactose was investigated in a series of batch fermentations using various concentrations of lactose. The results of batch fermentations showed that lactose was slowly assimilated by the engineered E. coli JM109(DE3) strain and 2-FL was synthesized without supplementation of another auxiliary sugar for cell growth. A maximum 2-FL concentration of 1.23 g/l was obtained from a batch fermentation with 14.5 g/l lactose. The experimentally obtained yield (g 2-FL/g lactose) corresponded to 20% of the theoretical maximum yield estimated by the elementary flux mode (EFM) analysis.


The experimental 2-FL yield in this study corresponded to about 20% of the theoretical maximum yield, which suggests further modifications via metabolic engineering of a host strain or optimization of fermentation processes might be carried out for improving 2-FL yield. Improvement of microbial production of 2-FL from lactose by engineered E. coli would increase the feasibility of utilizing 2-FL as a prebiotic in various foods.

Recombinant Escherichia coli; GDP-L-fucose; α-1,2-fucosyltransferase; 2′-fucosyllactose; Elementary flux mode analysis