Metabolic engineering and omics analysis of Agrobacterium sp. ATCC 31749 for oligosaccharide synthesis
Ruffing, Anne M.
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Oligosaccharides are important biomolecules that are targets and also components of many medical treatments, including treatments for cancer, HIV, and inflammation. While the demand for medically-relevant oligosaccharides is increasing, these compounds have proven difficult to synthesize. Whole-cell oligosaccharide synthesis is a promising method that requires relatively inexpensive substrates and can complete the synthesis in just one step. However, whole-cell oligosaccharide synthesis employing common microorganisms like E. coli have been plagued by low yields. This dissertation investigates an alternative microorganism for oligosaccharide production: Agrobacterium sp. ATCC 31749. This Agrobacterium strain produces high levels of curdlan polysaccharide, demonstrating its natural ability to produce the sugar nucleotide precursor for oligosaccharide production. The two main objectives of this dissertation are 1) to develop biocatalysts for oligosaccharide synthesis by engineering ATCC 31749 and 2) to determine what factors affect poly- and oligosaccharide production in this Agrobacterium strain. ATCC 31749 was engineered to produce two oligosaccharides of medical importance: N-acetyllactosamine and galactose-α 1,3-lactose. Oligosaccharide production in the biocatalyst was further improved with additional metabolic engineering. Substrate uptake was increased through expression of a lactose permease, and availability of the sugar nucleotide substrate improved with gene knockout of the curdlan synthase gene. Both of these engineering efforts led to increased oligosaccharide synthesis in the Agrobacterium biocatalyst. Overall, the engineered Agrobacterium strains synthesized gram-scale quantities of the oligosaccharide products in just one step and requiring only a few inexpensive substrates and cofactors. Additional improvement of the oligosaccharide-producing biocatalysts required further investigation of the factors influencing poly- and oligosaccharide production in ATCC 31749. In this dissertation, several environmental and intracellular factors are identified that affect both oligosaccharide and curdlan production. Sucrose was the preferred carbon source for oligosaccharide synthesis, and the addition of citrate to the synthesis reaction led to significant improvement in oligosaccharide production. To identify the genetic factors and possible mechanisms regulating curdlan production, the genome of ATCC 31749 was sequenced. The genome sequence was utilized for transcriptome analysis of ATCC 31749. In the transcriptome analysis, genes significantly up- and down-regulated during curdlan production were identified. Subsequent gene knockout experiments showed several factors to be important for curdlan synthesis, namely the nitrogen signaling cascade, polyphosphate, and the GTP-derived second messengers (p)ppGpp and c-di-GMP. In addition to the development of biocatalysts for oligosaccharide production, this investigation provides insight into the complex mechanisms regulating exopolysaccharide synthesis.