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Metabolic engineering of microbes for oligosaccharide and polysaccharide synthesis

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Microbial Cell Factories

BioMed Central

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      Metabolic engineering has recently been embraced as an effective tool for developing whole-cell biocatalysts for oligosaccharide and polysaccharide synthesis. Microbial catalysts now provide a practical means to derive many valuable oligosaccharides, previously inaccessible through other methods, in sufficient quantities to support research and clinical applications. The synthesis process based upon these microbes is scalable as it avoids expensive starting materials. Most impressive is the high product concentrations (up to 188 g/L) achieved through microbe-catalyzed synthesis. The overall cost for selected molecules has been brought to a reasonable range (estimated $ 30–50/g).Microbial synthesis of oligosaccharides and polysaccharides is a carbon-intensive and energy-intensive process, presenting some unique challenges in metabolic engineering. Unlike nicotinamide cofactors, the required sugar nucleotides are products of multiple interacting pathways, adding significant complexity to the metabolic engineering effort. Besides the challenge of providing the necessary mammalian-originated glycosyltransferases in active form, an adequate uptake of sugar acceptors can be an issue when another sugar is necessary as a carbon and energy source. These challenges are analyzed, and various strategies used to overcome these difficulties are reviewed in this article. Despite the impressive success of the microbial coupling strategy, there is a need to develop a single strain that can achieve at least the same efficiency. Host selection and the manner with which the synthesis interacts with the central metabolism are two important factors in the design of microbial catalysts. Additionally, unlike in vitro enzymatic synthesis, product degradation and byproduct formation are challenges of whole-cell systems that require additional engineering. A systematic approach that accounts for various and often conflicting requirements of the synthesis holds the key to deriving an efficient catalyst.Metabolic engineering strategies applied to selected polysaccharides (hyaluronan, alginate, and exopolysaccharides for food use) are reviewed in this article to highlight the recent progress in this area and similarity to challenges in oligosaccharide synthesis. Many naturally occurring microbes possess highly efficient mechanisms for polysaccharide synthesis. These mechanisms could potentially be engineered into a microbe for oligosaccharide and polysaccharide synthesis with enhanced efficiency.

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      Most cited references 35

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      Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a commercially valuable medical biopolymer increasingly produced through microbial fermentation. Viscosity limits product yield and the focus of research and development has been on improving the key quality parameters, purity and molecular weight. Traditional strain and process optimisation has yielded significant improvements, but appears to have reached a limit. Metabolic engineering is providing new opportunities and HA produced in a heterologous host is about to enter the market. In order to realise the full potential of metabolic engineering, however, greater understanding of the mechanisms underlying chain termination is required.
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        Remarakable advances in glycobiology in recent years have stimulated a resurgence of interest in carbohydrate chemistry. The challenge of producing the complex glycosides and oligosaccharides needed for research in glycobiology has led to the development of enzymatic methods that are now firmly established as part of the synthetic repertoire of the carbohydrate chemist.
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          The hasA gene from Streptococcus equisimilis, which encodes the enzyme hyaluronan synthase, has been expressed in Bacillus subtilis, resulting in the production of hyaluronic acid (HA) in the 1-MDa range. Artificial operons were assembled and tested, all of which contain the hasA gene along with one or more genes encoding enzymes involved in the synthesis of the UDP-precursor sugars that are required for HA synthesis. It was determined that the production of UDP-glucuronic acid is limiting in B. subtilis and that overexpressing the hasA gene along with the endogenous tuaD gene is sufficient for high-level production of HA. In addition, the B. subtilis-derived material was shown to be secreted and of high quality, comparable to commercially available sources of HA.

            Author and article information

            [1 ]School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia, 30332-0100, USA
            Microb Cell Fact
            Microbial Cell Factories
            BioMed Central (London )
            21 July 2006
            : 5
            : 25
            Copyright © 2006 Ruffing and Chen; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

            This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.




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