With the increasing consumption of fossil fuels, the question of meeting the global energy demand is of great importance in the near future. As an effective solution, production of higher alcohols from renewable sources by microorganisms has been proposed to address both energy crisis and environmental concerns. Higher alcohols contain more than two carbon atoms and have better physiochemical properties than ethanol as fuel substitutes.
We designed a novel 1-propanol metabolic pathway by expanding the well-known 1,2-propanediol pathway with two more enzymatic steps catalyzed by a 1,2-propanediol dehydratase and an alcohol dehydrogenase. In order to engineer the pathway into E. coli, we evaluated the activities of eight different methylglyoxal synthases which play crucial roles in shunting carbon flux from glycolysis towards 1-propanol biosynthesis, as well as two secondary alcohol dehydrogenases of different origins that reduce both methylglyoxal and hydroxyacetone. It is evident from our results that the most active enzymes are the methylglyoxal synthase from Bacillus subtilis and the secondary alcohol dehydrogenase from Klebsiella pneumoniae, encoded by mgsA and budC respectively. With the expression of these two genes and the E. coli
ydjG encoding methylglyoxal reductase, we achieved the production of 1,2-propanediol at 0.8 g/L in shake flask experiments. We then characterized the catalytic efficiency of three different diol dehydratases on 1,2-propanediol and identified the optimal one as the 1,2-propanediol dehydratase from Klebsiella oxytoca, encoded by the operon ppdABC. Co-expressing this enzyme with the above 1,2-propanediol pathway in wild type E. coli resulted in the production of 1-propanol at a titer of 0.25 g/L.
We have successfully established a new pathway for 1-propanol production by shunting the carbon flux from glycolysis. To our knowledge, it is the first time that this pathway has been utilized to produce 1-propanol in E. coli. The work presented here forms a basis for further improvement in production. We speculate that dragging more carbon flux towards methylglyoxal by manipulating glycolytic pathway and eliminating competing pathways such as lactate generation can further enhance the production of 1-propanol.||