Open Access Open Badges Research

A quantitative study of methanol/sorbitol co-feeding process of a Pichia pastoris Mut+/pAOX1-lacZ strain

Hongxing Niu1*, Laurent Jost2, Nathalie Pirlot2, Hosni Sassi1, Marc Daukandt2, Christian Rodriguez2 and Patrick Fickers1*

Author Affiliations

1 Unité de Biotechnologies et Bioprocédés, Université libre de Bruxelles, Av. F.-D. Roosevelt 50 CP 165/61, 1050 Brussels, Belgium

2 Eurogentec S.A., Rue du Bois Saint Jean, n°14, 4102 Seraing, Belgium

For all author emails, please log on.

Microbial Cell Factories 2013, 12:33  doi:10.1186/1475-2859-12-33

Published: 8 April 2013



One of the main challenges for heterologous protein production by the methylotrophic yeast Pichia pastoris at large-scale is related to its high oxygen demand. A promising solution is a co-feeding strategy based on a methanol/sorbitol mixture during the induction phase. Nonetheless, a deep understanding of the cellular physiology and the regulation of the AOX1 promoter, used to govern heterologous protein production, during this co-feeding strategy is still scarce.


Transient continuous cultures with a dilution rate of 0.023 h-1 at 25°C were performed to quantitatively assess the benefits of a methanol/sorbitol co-feeding process with a Mut+ strain in which the pAOX1-lacZ construct served as a reporter gene. Cell growth and metabolism, including O2 consumption together with CO2 and heat production were analyzed with regard to a linear change of methanol fraction in the mixed feeding media. In addition, the regulation of the promoter AOX1 was investigated by means of β-galactosidase measurements. Our results demonstrated that the cell-specific oxygen consumption (qO2) could be reduced by decreasing the methanol fraction in the feeding media. More interestingly, maximal β-galactosidase cell-specific activity (>7500 Miller unit) and thus, optimal pAOX1 induction, was achieved and maintained in the range of 0.45 ~ 0.75 C-mol/C-mol of methanol fraction. In addition, the qO2 was reduced by 30% at most in those conditions. Based on a simplified metabolic network, metabolic flux analysis (MFA) was performed to quantify intracellular metabolic flux distributions during the transient continuous cultures, which further shed light on the advantages of methanol/sorbitol co-feeding process. Finally, our observations were further validated in fed-batch cultures.


This study brings quantitative insight into the co-feeding process, which provides valuable data for the control of methanol/sorbitol co-feeding, aiming at enhancing biomass and heterologous protein productivities under given oxygen supply. According to our results, β-galactosidase productivity could be improved about 40% using the optimally mixed feed.

Pichia pastoris; pAOX1; β-galactosidase; Methanol/sorbitol co-feeding; Metabolic flux analysis; Transient continuous culture; Fed batch culture