Cell-free metabolic engineering enables selective biotransformation of fatty acids to value-added chemicals

Yushi Liu, Wan Qiu Liu, Shuhui Huang, Huiling Xu, Haofan Lu, Changzhu Wu, Jian Li*


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Fatty acid-derived products such as alkanes, fatty aldehydes, and fatty alcohols have many applications in the chemical industry. These products are predominately produced from fossil resources, but their production processes are often not environmentally friendly. While microbes like Escherichia coli have been engineered to convert fatty acids to corresponding products, the design and optimization of metabolic pathways in cells for high productivity is challenging due to low mass transfer, heavy metabolic burden, and intermediate/product toxicity. Here, we describe an E. coli-based cell-free protein synthesis (CFPS) platform for in vitro conversion of long-chain fatty acids to value-added chemicals with product selectivity, which can also avoid the above issues when using microbial production systems. We achieve the selective biotransformation by cell-free expression of different enzymes and the use of different conditions (e.g., light and heating) to drive the biocatalysis toward different final products. Specifically, in response to blue light, cell-free expressed fatty acid photodecarboxylase (CvFAP, a photoenzyme) was able to convert fatty acids to alkanes with approximately 90% conversion. When the expressed enzyme was switched to carboxylic acid reductase (CAR), fatty acids were reduced to corresponding fatty aldehydes, which, however, could be further reduced to fatty alcohols by endogenous reductases in the cell-free system. By using a thermostable CAR and a heating treatment, the endogenous reductases were deactivated and fatty aldehydes could be selectively accumulated (>97% in the product mixture) without over-reduction to alcohols. Overall, our cell-free platform provides a new strategy to convert fatty acids to valuable chemicals with notable properties of operation flexibility, reaction controllability, and product selectivity.

TidsskriftMetabolic Engineering Communications
StatusUdgivet - jun. 2023

Bibliografisk note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant Nos. 31971348 and 32171427 ) and the Double First-Class Initiative Fund of ShanghaiTech University (grant No. SYLDX0292022 ).

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© 2022


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