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.