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Physiological relation between respiration activity and heterologous expression of selected benzoylformate decarboxylase variants in Escherichia coli

Thomas G Palmen1, Jens Nieveler1, Bettina Frölich2, Wiltrud Treffenfeldt3, Martina Pohl24 and Jochen Büchs1*

Author Affiliations

1 AVT - Aachener Verfahrenstechnik, Biochemical Engineering, RWTH Aachen University, Worringerweg 1, D-52074 Aachen, Germany

2 Institute of Molecular Enzyme Technology, Heinrich-Heine University Düsseldorf, Research Centre Jülich, D-52426 Jülich, Germany

3 Bioprocess R&D, Dow AgroSciences LLC, Indianapolis, USA

4 Current Address: Institute of Biotechnology 2, Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH, D-52425 Jülich, Germany

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Microbial Cell Factories 2010, 9:76  doi:10.1186/1475-2859-9-76

Published: 19 October 2010



The benzoylformate decarboxylase (BFD) from Pseudomonas putida is a biotechnologically interesting biocatalyst. It catalyses the formation of chiral 2-hydroxy ketones, which are important building blocks for stereoselective syntheses. To optimise the enzyme function often the amino acid composition is modified to improve the performance of the enzyme. So far it was assumed that a relatively small modification of the amino acid composition of a protein does not significantly influence the level of expression or media requirements. To determine, which effects these modifications might have on cultivation and product formation, six different BFD-variants with one or two altered amino acids and the wild type BFD were expressed in Escherichia coli SG13009 pKK233-2. The oxygen transfer rate (OTR) as parameter for growth and metabolic activity of the different E. coli clones was monitored on-line in LB, TB and modified PanG mineral medium with the Respiratory Activity MOnitoring System (RAMOS).


Although the E. coli clones were genetically nearly identical, the kinetics of their metabolic activity surprisingly differed in the standard media applied. Three different types of OTR curves could be distinguished. Whereas the first type (clones expressing Leu476Pro-Ser181Thr or Leu476Pro) had typical OTR curves, the second type (clones expressing the wild type BFD, Ser181Thr or His281Ala) showed an early drop of OTR in LB and TB medium and a drastically reduced maximum OTR in modified PanG mineral medium. The third type (clone expressing Leu476Gln) behaved variable. Depending on the cultivation conditions, its OTR curve was similar to the first or the second type. It was shown, that the kinetics of the metabolic activity of the first type depended on the concentration of thiamine, which is a cofactor of BFD, in the medium. It was demonstrated that the cofactor binding strength of the different BFD-variants correlated with the differences in metabolic activity of their respective host strain.


The BFD-variants with high cofactor binding affinity (wild type, His281Ala, Ser181Thr) obviously extract thiamine from the medium and bind it tightly to the enzyme. This might explain the hampered growth of these clones. In contrast, growth of clones expressing variants with low cofactor binding affinity (Leu476His, Leu476Pro, Leu476Pro-Ser181Thr) is not impaired. Leu476Gln has an intermediate cofactor binding strength, thus, growth of its host strain depends on the specific cultivation conditions. This paper shows that slight differences of the amino acid composition can affect protein expression and cultivation and might require an adaptation of media components. Effects such as the observed are hardly foreseeable and difficult to detect in conventional screening processes. Via small scale experiments with on-line measurements in shake flasks such effects influencing the cultivation and product formation can be detected and avoided.