Engineering Escherichia coli for high-level production of propionate

  • Lamees Akawi
  • Kajan Srirangan
  • Xuejia Liu
  • Murray Moo-Young
  • C. Perry Chou
Metabolic Engineering and Synthetic Biology


Mounting environmental concerns associated with the use of petroleum-based chemical manufacturing practices has generated significant interest in the development of biological alternatives for the production of propionate. However, biological platforms for propionate production have been limited to strict anaerobes, such as Propionibacteria and select Clostridia. In this work, we demonstrated high-level heterologous production of propionate under microaerobic conditions in engineered Escherichia coli. Activation of the native Sleeping beauty mutase (Sbm) operon not only transformed E. coli to be propionogenic (i.e., propionate-producing) but also introduced an intracellular “flux competition” between the traditional C2-fermentative pathway and the novel C3-fermentative pathway. Dissimilation of the major carbon source of glycerol was identified to critically affect such “flux competition” and, therefore, propionate synthesis. As a result, the propionogenic E. coli was further engineered by inactivation or overexpression of various genes involved in the glycerol dissimilation pathways and their individual genetic effects on propionate production were investigated. Generally, knocking out genes involved in glycerol dissimilation (except glpA) can minimize levels of solventogenesis and shift more dissimilated carbon flux toward the C3-fermentative pathway. For optimal propionate production with high C3:C2-fermentative product ratios, glycerol dissimilation should be channeled through the respiratory pathway and, upon suppressed solventogenesis with minimal production of highly reduced alcohols, the alternative NADH-consuming route associated with propionate synthesis can be critical for more flexible redox balancing. With the implementation of various biochemical and genetic strategies, high propionate titers of more than 11 g/L with high yields up to 0.4 g-propionate/g-glycerol (accounting for ~50 % of dissimilated glycerol) were achieved, demonstrating the potential for industrial application. To our knowledge, this represents the most effective engineered microbial system for propionate production with titers and yields comparable to those achieved by anaerobic batch cultivation of various native propionate-producing strains of Propionibacteria.


Escherichia coli Genetic engineering Glycerol Propionate Sleeping beauty mutase 


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Copyright information

© Society for Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lamees Akawi
    • 1
  • Kajan Srirangan
    • 1
  • Xuejia Liu
    • 1
  • Murray Moo-Young
    • 1
  • C. Perry Chou
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Chemical EngineeringUniversity of WaterlooWaterlooCanada

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