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Open Access Research

Host cell and expression engineering for development of an E. coli ketoreductase catalyst: Enhancement of formate dehydrogenase activity for regeneration of NADH

Katharina Mädje, Katharina Schmölzer, Bernd Nidetzky* and Regina Kratzer*

Author Affiliations

Institute of Biotechnology and Biochemical Engineering, Graz University of Technology (TUG), Petersgasse 12/1, A-8010 Graz, Austria

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Microbial Cell Factories 2012, 11:7  doi:10.1186/1475-2859-11-7

Published: 11 January 2012

Abstract

Background

Enzymatic NADH or NADPH-dependent reduction is a widely applied approach for the synthesis of optically active organic compounds. The overall biocatalytic conversion usually involves in situ regeneration of the expensive NAD(P)H. Oxidation of formate to carbon dioxide, catalyzed by formate dehydrogenase (EC 1.2.1.2; FDH), presents an almost ideal process solution for coenzyme regeneration that has been well established for NADH. Because isolated FDH is relatively unstable under a range of process conditions, whole cells often constitute the preferred form of the biocatalyst, combining the advantage of enzyme protection in the cellular environment with ease of enzyme production. However, the most prominent FDH used in biotransformations, the enzyme from the yeast Candida boidinii, is usually expressed in limiting amounts of activity in the prime host for whole cell biocatalysis, Escherichia coli. We therefore performed expression engineering with the aim of enhancing FDH activity in an E. coli ketoreductase catalyst. The benefit resulting from improved NADH regeneration capacity is demonstrated in two transformations of technological relevance: xylose conversion into xylitol, and synthesis of (S)-1-(2-chlorophenyl)ethanol from o-chloroacetophenone.

Results

As compared to individual expression of C. boidinii FDH in E. coli BL21 (DE3) that gave an intracellular enzyme activity of 400 units/gCDW, co-expression of the FDH with the ketoreductase (Candida tenuis xylose reductase; XR) resulted in a substantial decline in FDH activity. The remaining FDH activity of only 85 U/gCDW was strongly limiting the overall catalytic activity of the whole cell system. Combined effects from increase in FDH gene copy number, supply of rare tRNAs in a Rosetta strain of E. coli, dampened expression of the ketoreductase, and induction at low temperature (18°C) brought up the FDH activity threefold to a level of 250 U/gCDW while reducing the XR activity by just 19% (1140 U/gCDW). The E. coli whole-cell catalyst optimized for intracellular FDH activity showed improved performance in the synthesis of (S)-1-(2-chlorophenyl)ethanol, reflected in a substantial, up to 5-fold enhancement of productivity (0.37 g/gCDW) and yield (95% based on 100 mM ketone used) as compared to the reference catalyst. For xylitol production, the benefit of enhanced FDH expression was observed on productivity only after elimination of the mass transfer resistance caused by the cell membrane.

Conclusions

Expression engineering of C. boidinii FDH is an important strategy to optimize E. coli whole-cell reductase catalysts that employ intracellular formate oxidation for regeneration of NADH. Increased FDH-activity was reflected by higher reduction yields of D-xylose and o-chloroacetophenone conversions provided that mass transfer limitations were overcome.