Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology

, Volume 102, Issue 19, pp 8203–8211 | Cite as

Current understanding of sulfur assimilation metabolism to biosynthesize l-cysteine and recent progress of its fermentative overproduction in microorganisms

  • Yusuke Kawano
  • Kengo Suzuki
  • Iwao OhtsuEmail author


To all organisms, sulfur is an essential and important element. The assimilation of inorganic sulfur molecules such as sulfate and thiosulfate into organic sulfur compounds such as l-cysteine and l-methionine (essential amino acid for human) is largely contributed by microorganisms. Of these, special attention is given to thiosulfate (S2O32−) assimilation, because thiosulfate relative to often utilized sulfate (SO42−) as a sulfur source is proposed to be more advantageous in microbial growth and biotechnological applications like l-cysteine fermentative overproduction toward industrial manufacturing. In Escherichia coli as well as other many bacteria, the thiosulfate assimilation pathway is known to depend on O-acetyl-l-serine sulfhydrylase B. Recently, another yet-unidentified CysM-independent thiosulfate pathway was found in E. coli. This pathway is expected to consist of the initial part of the thiosulfate to sulfite (SO32−) conversion, and the latter part might be shared with the final part of the known sulfate assimilation pathway [sulfite → sulfide (S2−) → l-cysteine]. The catalysis of thiosulfate to sulfite is at least partly mediated by thiosulfate sulfurtransferase (GlpE). In this mini-review, we introduce updated comprehensive information about sulfur assimilation in microorganisms, including this topic. Also, we introduce recent advances of the application study about l-cysteine overproduction, including the GlpE overexpression.


l-Cysteine l-Cysteine production Sulfur assimilation Thiosulfate sulfurtransferase Escherichia coli 



We would like to thank Taka-Aki Sato (Ph.D. Program in Human Biology, School of Integrative and Global Majors, University of Tsukuba, Tsukuba, Japan; Shimadzu Co., Kyoto, Japan) for excellent discussion.

Funding information

This review was supported in part by JSPS KAKENHI Grant Numbers JP26450091 and JP15KT0028, by Science and Technology Research Promotion Program for Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries and Food Industry (26027AB) from MAFF, Japan, and by the grant from The SKYLARK Food Science Institute, Japan, to I.O. This work was also supported in part by JSPS KAKENHI Grant Numbers JP16K18675 and JP15KT0028 to Y.K. The funders had no role in manuscript design or the decision to submit the work for publication.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Innovation Medical Research InstituteUniversity of TsukubaTsukubaJapan
  2. 2.Department of Research and DevelopmentEuglena Co., Ltd.TokyoJapan

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