Metabolic engineering strategies to increase n-butanol production from cyanobacteria


The development of sustainable replacements for fossil fuels has been spurred by concerns over global warming effects. Biofuels are typically produced through fermentation of edible crops, or forest or agricultural residues requiring cost-intensive pretreatment. An alternative is to use photosynthetic cyanobacteria to directly convert CO2 and sunlight into fuel. In this thesis, the cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 was genetically engineered to produce the biofuel n­-butanol. Several metabolic engineering strategies were explored with the aim to increase butanol titers and tolerance.

In papers I-II, different driving forces for n-butanol production were evaluated. Expression of a phosphoketolase increased acetyl-CoA levels and subsequently butanol titers. Attempts to increase the NADH pool further improved titers to 100 mg/L in four days.

In paper III, enzymes were co-localized onto a scaffold to aid intermediate channeling. The scaffold was tested on a farnesene and polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) pathway in yeast and in E. coli, respectively, and could be extended to cyanobacteria. Enzyme co-localization increased farnesene titers by 120%. Additionally, fusion of scaffold-recognizing proteins to the enzymes improved farnesene and PHB production by 20% and 300%, respectively, even in the absence of scaffold.

In paper IV, the gene repression technology CRISPRi was implemented in Synechocystis to enable parallel repression of multiple genes. CRISPRi allowed 50-95% repression of four genes simultaneously. The method will be valuable for repression of competing pathways to butanol synthesis.

Butanol becomes toxic at high concentrations, impeding growth and thus limiting titers. In papers V-VI, butanol tolerance was increased by overexpressing a heat shock protein or a stress-related sigma factor.

Taken together, this thesis demonstrates several strategies to improve butanol production from cyanobacteria. The strategies could ultimately be combined to increase titers further.