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Identification of aromatic-inducible promoters and heterologous biosensors as tuning elements for styrene production in E. coli

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One of the primary bottlenecks to chemical production in biological organisms is the toxicity of the chemical. Overexpression of efflux pumps has been shown to increase tolerance to aromatic compounds such as styrene and styrene oxide. Tight control of pum

One of the primary bottlenecks to chemical production in biological organisms is the toxicity of the chemical. Overexpression of efflux pumps has been shown to increase tolerance to aromatic compounds such as styrene and styrene oxide. Tight control of pump expression is necessary to maximize titers and prevent excessive strain on the cells. This study aimed to identify aromatic-sensitive native promoters and heterologous biosensors for construction of closed-loop control of efflux pump expression in E. coli. Using a promoter library constructed by Zaslaver et al., activation was measured through GFP output. Promoters were evaluated for their sensitivity to the addition of one of four aromatic compounds, their "leaking" of signal, and their induction threshold. Out of 43 targeted promoters, 4 promoters (cmr, mdtG, yahN, yajR) for styrene oxide, 2 promoters (mdtG, yahN) for styrene, 0 promoters for 2-phenylethanol, and 1 promoter for phenol (pheP) were identified as ideal control elements in aromatic bioproduction. In addition, a series of three biosensors (NahR, XylS, DmpR) known to be inducible by other aromatics were screened against styrene oxide, 2-phenylethanol, and phenol. The targeted application of these biosensors is aromatic-induced activation of linked efflux pumps. All three biosensors responded strongly in the presence of styrene oxide and 2-phenylethanol, with minor activation in the presence of phenol. Bioproduction of aromatics continues to gain traction in the biotechnology industry, and the continued discovery of aromatic-inducible elements will be essential to effective pathway control.

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2018-05

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New insights into the pore development mechanism of layered hydroxides upon thermal activation

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Layered double hydroxides (LDHs), also known as hydrotalcite-like materials, are extensively used as precursors for the preparation of (photo-)catalysts, electrodes, magnetic materials, sorbents, etc. The synthesis typically involves the transformation to the corresponding mixed metal oxide via calcination, resulting in

Layered double hydroxides (LDHs), also known as hydrotalcite-like materials, are extensively used as precursors for the preparation of (photo-)catalysts, electrodes, magnetic materials, sorbents, etc. The synthesis typically involves the transformation to the corresponding mixed metal oxide via calcination, resulting in atomically dispersed mixed metal oxides (MMOs). This process alters the porosity of the materials, with crucial implications for the performance in many applications. Yet, the mechanisms of pore formation and collapse are poorly understood. Combining an integrated in situ and ex situ characterization approach, here we follow the evolution of porosity changes during the thermal decomposition of LDHs integrating different divalent (Mg, Ni) and trivalent (Al, Ga) metals. Variations in porous properties determined by high-resolution argon sorption are linked to the morphological and compositional changes in the samples by in situ transmission electron microscopy coupled with energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy, which is facilitated by the synthesis of well crystallized LDHs of large crystal size. The observations are correlated with the phase changes identified by X-ray diffraction, the mass losses evidenced by thermogravimetric analysis, the structural changes determined by infrared and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, and the pore connectivity analyzed by positron annihilation spectroscopy. The findings show that the multimetallic nature of the LDH governs the size and distribution (geometry, location, and connectivity) of the mesopores developed, which is controlled by the crystallization of the MMO phase, providing key insights for the improved design of porous mixed metal oxides.

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2017-05

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Improving yields and productivity of microbe-catalyzed production of targeted bio-molecules using in-situ adsorption

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With the aid of metabolic pathways engineering, microbes are finding increased use as biocatalysts to convert renewable biomass resources into fine chemicals, pharmaceuticals and other valuable compounds. These alternative, bio-based production routes offer distinct advantages over traditional synthesis methods,

With the aid of metabolic pathways engineering, microbes are finding increased use as biocatalysts to convert renewable biomass resources into fine chemicals, pharmaceuticals and other valuable compounds. These alternative, bio-based production routes offer distinct advantages over traditional synthesis methods, including lower energy requirements, rendering them as more "green" and "eco-friendly". Escherichia coli has recently been engineered to produce the aromatic chemicals (S)-styrene oxide and phenol directly from renewable glucose. Several factors, however, limit the viability of this approach, including low titers caused by product inhibition and/or low metabolic flux through the engineered pathways. This thesis focuses on addressing these concerns using magnetic mesoporous carbon powders as adsorbents for continuous, in-situ product removal as a means to alleviate such limitations. Using process engineering as a means to troubleshoot metabolic pathways by continuously removing products, increased yields are achieved from both pathways. By performing case studies in product toxicity and reaction equilibrium it was concluded that each step of a metabolic pathway can be optimized by the strategic use of in-situ adsorption as a process engineering tool.

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2014

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Exploring growth essential genes in E. coli using synthetic small RNA to enhance production of phenylalanine

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Biomass synthesis is a competing factor in biological systems geared towards generation of commodity and specialty chemicals, ultimately limiting maximum titer and yield; in this thesis, a widely generalizable, modular approach focused on decoupling biomass synthesis from the production of

Biomass synthesis is a competing factor in biological systems geared towards generation of commodity and specialty chemicals, ultimately limiting maximum titer and yield; in this thesis, a widely generalizable, modular approach focused on decoupling biomass synthesis from the production of the phenylalanine in a genetically modified strain of E. coli BW25113 was explored with the use of synthetic trans-encoded small RNA (sRNA) to achieve greater efficiency. The naturally occurring sRNA MicC was used as a scaffold, and combined on a plasmid with a promoter for anhydrous tetracycline (aTc) and a T1/TE terminator. The coding sequence corresponding to the target binding site for fourteen potentially growth-essential gene targets as well as non-essential lacZ was placed in the seed region of the of the sRNA scaffold and transformed into BW25113, effectively generating a unique strain for each gene target. The BW25113 strain corresponding to each gene target was screened in M9 minimal media; decreased optical density and elongated cell morphology changes were observed and quantified in all induced sRNA cases where growth-essential genes were targeted. Six of the strains targeting different aspects of cell division that effectively suppressed growth and resulted in increased cell size were then screened for viability and metabolic activity in a scaled-up shaker flask experiment; all six strains were shown to be viable during stationary phase, and a metabolite analysis showed increased specific glucose consumption rates in induced strains, with unaffected specific glucose consumption rates in uninduced strains. The growth suppression, morphology and metabolic activity of the induced strains in BW25113 was compared to the bacteriostatic additives chloramphenicol, tetracycline, and streptomycin. At this same scale, the sRNA plasmid targeting the gene murA was transformed into BW25113 pINT-GA, a phenylalanine overproducer with the feedback resistant genes aroG and pheA overexpressed. Two induction times were explored during exponential phase, and while the optimal induction time was found to increase titer and yield amongst the BW25113 pINT-GA murA sRNA variant, overall this did not have as great a titer or yield as the BW25113 pINT-GA strain without the sRNA plasmid; this may be a result of the cell filamentation.

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2016

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Biosynthetic production of aromatic fine chemicals

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This dissertation focuses on the biosynthetic production of aromatic fine chemicals in engineered Escherichia coli from renewable resources. The discussed metabolic pathways take advantage of key metabolites in the shikimic acid pathway, which is responsible for the production of the

This dissertation focuses on the biosynthetic production of aromatic fine chemicals in engineered Escherichia coli from renewable resources. The discussed metabolic pathways take advantage of key metabolites in the shikimic acid pathway, which is responsible for the production of the aromatic amino acids phenylalanine, tyrosine, and tryptophan. For the first time, the renewable production of benzaldehyde and benzyl alcohol has been achieved in recombinant E. coli with a maximum titer of 114 mg/L of benzyl alcohol. Further strain development to knockout endogenous alcohol dehydrogenase has reduced the in vivo degradation of benzaldehyde by 9-fold, representing an improved host for the future production of benzaldehyde as a sole product. In addition, a novel alternative pathway for the production of protocatechuate (PCA) and catechol from the endogenous metabolite chorismate is demonstrated. Titers for PCA and catechol were achieved at 454 mg/L and 630 mg/L, respectively. To explore potential routes for improved aromatic product yields, an in silico model using elementary mode analysis was developed. From the model, stoichiometric optimums maximizing both product-to-substrate and biomass-to-substrate yields were discovered in a co-fed model using glycerol and D-xylose as the carbon substrates for the biosynthetic production of catechol. Overall, the work presented in this dissertation highlights contributions to the field of metabolic engineering through novel pathway design for the biosynthesis of industrially relevant aromatic fine chemicals and the use of in silico modelling to identify novel approaches to increasing aromatic product yields.

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2016

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Exploring biosynthetic pathways for aromatic ester production

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Synthetic biology and metabolic engineering has aided the production of chemicals using renewable resources, thus offering a solution to our dependence on the dwindling petroleum resources. While a major portion of petroleum resources go towards production of fuels, a significant

Synthetic biology and metabolic engineering has aided the production of chemicals using renewable resources, thus offering a solution to our dependence on the dwindling petroleum resources. While a major portion of petroleum resources go towards production of fuels, a significant fraction also goes towards production of specialty chemicals. There has been a growing interest in recent years in commercializing bio-based production of such high value compounds. In this thesis the biosynthesis of aromatic esters has been explored, which have typical application as flavor and fragrance additive to food, drinks and cosmetics. Recent progress in pathway engineering has led to the construction of several aromatic alcohol producing pathways, the likes of which can be utilized to engineer aromatic ester biosynthesis by addition of a suitable enzyme from the acyltransferase class. Enzyme selection and screening done in this work has identified chloramphenicol O-acetyltransferase enzyme(CAT) as a potential candidate to complete the biosynthetic pathways for each of 2-phenethyl acetate, benzyl acetate, phenyl acetate and acetyl salicylate. In the end, E. coli strains capable of producing up to 60 mg/L 2-phenethyl acetate directly from glucose were successfully constructed by co-expressing CAT in a previously engineered 2-phenylethanol producing host.

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2016

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Separations of Biofuels and Bioproducts via Magnetic Mesoporous Carbons

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The aims of this project are to demonstrate the design and implementation of separations modalities for 1) in situ product recovery and 2) upstream pretreatment of toxic feedstocks. Many value-added bioproducts such as alcohols (ethanol and butanol) developed for the

The aims of this project are to demonstrate the design and implementation of separations modalities for 1) in situ product recovery and 2) upstream pretreatment of toxic feedstocks. Many value-added bioproducts such as alcohols (ethanol and butanol) developed for the transportation sector are known to be integral to a sustainable future. Likewise, bioproduced aromatic building blocks for sustainable manufacturing such as phenol will be equally important. The production of these compounds is often limited by product toxicity at 2- 20 g/L, whereas it may desirable to produce 20-200 g/L for economically feasible scale up. While low-cost feedstocks are desirable for economical production, they contain highly cytotoxic value-added byproducts such as furfural. It is therefore desirable to design facile detoxification methods for lignocellulose-derived feedstocks to isolate and recover furfural preceding ethanol fermentation by Escherichia coli. Correspondingly it is desirable to design efficient facile in situ recovery modalities for bioalcohols and phenolic bioproducts. Accordingly, in-situ removal modalities were designed for simultaneous acetone, butanol, and ethanol recovery. Additionally, a furfural removal modality from lignocellulosic hydrolysates was designed for upstream pretreatment. Solid-liquid adsorption was found to serve well each of the recovery modalities characterized here. More hydrophobic compounds such as butanol and furfural are readily recovered from aqueous solutions via adsorption. The primary operational drawback to adsorption is adsorbent recovery and subsequent desorption of the product. Novel magnetically separable mesoporous carbon powders (MMCPs) were characterized and found to be rapidly separable from solutions at 91% recovery by mass. Thermal desorption of value added products was found efficient for recovery of butanol and furfural. Fufural was desorbed from the MMCPs up to 57% by mass with repeated adsorption/thermal desorption cycles. Butanol was recovered from MMCPs up to an average 93% by mass via thermal desorption. As another valuable renewable fermentation product, phenol was also collected via in-situ adsorption onto Dowex Optipore L-493 resin. Phenol recovery from the resins was efficiently accomplished with tert-butyl methyl ether up to 77% after 3 washes.

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2017

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Investigating strategies to enhance microbial production of and tolerance towards aromatic biochemicals

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Aromatic compounds have traditionally been generated via petroleum feedstocks and have wide ranging applications in a variety of fields such as cosmetics, food, plastics, and pharmaceuticals. Substantial improvements have been made to sustainably produce many aromatic chemicals from renewable

Aromatic compounds have traditionally been generated via petroleum feedstocks and have wide ranging applications in a variety of fields such as cosmetics, food, plastics, and pharmaceuticals. Substantial improvements have been made to sustainably produce many aromatic chemicals from renewable sources utilizing microbes as bio-factories. By assembling and optimizing native and non-native pathways to produce natural and non-natural bioproducts, the diversity of biochemical aromatics which can be produced is constantly being improved upon. One such compound, 2-Phenylethanol (2PE), is a key molecule used in the fragrance and food industries, as well as a potential biofuel. Here, a novel, non-natural pathway was engineered in Escherichia coli and subsequently evaluated. Following strain and bioprocess optimization, accumulation of inhibitory acetate byproduct was reduced and 2PE titers approached 2 g/L – a ~2-fold increase over previously implemented pathways in E. coli. Furthermore, a recently developed mechanism to

allow E. coli to consume xylose and glucose, two ubiquitous and industrially relevant microbial feedstocks, simultaneously was implemented and systematically evaluated for its effects on L-phenylalanine (Phe; a precursor to many microbially-derived aromatics such as 2PE) production. Ultimately, by incorporating this mutation into a Phe overproducing strain of E. coli, improvements in overall Phe titers, yields and sugar consumption in glucose-xylose mixed feeds could be obtained. While upstream efforts to improve precursor availability are necessary to ultimately reach economically-viable production, the effect of end-product toxicity on production metrics for many aromatics is severe. By utilizing a transcriptional profiling technique (i.e., RNA sequencing), key insights into the mechanisms behind styrene-induced toxicity in E. coli and the cellular response systems that are activated to maintain cell viability were obtained. By investigating variances in the transcriptional response between styrene-producing cells and cells where styrene was added exogenously, better understanding on how mechanisms such as the phage shock, heat-shock and membrane-altering responses react in different scenarios. Ultimately, these efforts to diversify the collection of microbially-produced aromatics, improve intracellular precursor pools and further the understanding of cellular response to toxic aromatic compounds, give insight into methods for improved future metabolic engineering endeavors.

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2019

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Engineering Escherichia coli for the Novel and Enhanced Biosynthesis of Phenol, Catechol, and Muconic Acid

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The engineering of microbial cell factories capable of synthesizing industrially relevant chemical building blocks is an attractive alternative to conventional petrochemical-based production methods. This work focuses on the novel and enhanced biosynthesis of phenol, catechol, and muconic acid (MA). Although

The engineering of microbial cell factories capable of synthesizing industrially relevant chemical building blocks is an attractive alternative to conventional petrochemical-based production methods. This work focuses on the novel and enhanced biosynthesis of phenol, catechol, and muconic acid (MA). Although the complete biosynthesis from glucose has been previously demonstrated for all three compounds, established production routes suffer from notable inherent limitations. Here, multiple pathways to the same three products were engineered, each incorporating unique enzyme chemistries and/or stemming from different endogenous precursors. In the case of phenol, two novel pathways were constructed and comparatively evaluated, with titers reaching as high as 377 ± 14 mg/L at a glucose yield of 35.7 ± 0.8 mg/g. In the case of catechol, three novel pathways were engineered with titers reaching 100 ± 2 mg/L. Finally, in the case of MA, four novel pathways were engineered with maximal titers reaching 819 ± 44 mg/L at a glucose yield of 40.9 ± 2.2 mg/g. Furthermore, the unique flexibility with respect to engineering multiple pathways to the same product arises in part because these compounds are common intermediates in aromatic degradation pathways. Expanding on the novel pathway engineering efforts, a synthetic ‘metabolic funnel’ was subsequently constructed for phenol and MA, wherein multiple pathways were expressed in parallel to maximize carbon flux toward the final product. Using this novel ‘funneling’ strategy, maximal phenol and MA titers exceeding 0.5 and 3 g/L, respectively, were achieved, representing the highest achievable production metrics products reported to date.

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2017

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Engineering and Investigating the Effects of Renewable Chemical Production in Bacteria

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Metabolic engineering of bacteria has become a viable technique as a sustainable and efficient method for the production of biochemicals. Two main goals were explored: investigating styrene tolerance genes in E. coli and engineering cyanobacteria for the high yield production

Metabolic engineering of bacteria has become a viable technique as a sustainable and efficient method for the production of biochemicals. Two main goals were explored: investigating styrene tolerance genes in E. coli and engineering cyanobacteria for the high yield production of L-serine. In the first study, genes that were shown to be highly differentially expressed in E. coli upon styrene exposure were further investigated by testing the effects of their deletion and overexpression on styrene tolerance and growth. It was found that plsX, a gene responsible for the phospholipid formation in membranes, had the most promising results when overexpressed at 10 µM IPTG, with a relative OD600 of 706 ± 117% at 175 mg/L styrene when compared to the control plasmid at the same concentration. This gene is likely to be effective target when engineering styrene- and other aromatic-producing strains, increasing titers by reducing their cytotoxicity.In the second study, the goal is to engineer the cyanobacterium Synechococcus sp. PCC 7002 for the overproduction of L-serine. As a robust, photosynthetic bacteria, it has potential for being used in such-rich states to capture CO2 and produce industrially relevant products. In order to increase L-serine titers, a key degradation gene, ilvA, must be removed. While ilvA is responsible for degrading L-serine into pyruvate, it is also responsible for initiating the only known pathway for the production of isoleucine. Herein, we constructed a plasmid containing the native A0730 gene in order to investigate its potential to restore isoleucine production. If functional, a Synechococcus sp. PCC 7002 ΔilvA strain can then be engineered with minimal effects on growth and an expected increase in L-serine accumulation.

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2021