Metabolic engineering of yeast for the production of plant-derived secondary metabolites

Metabolic engineering of yeast for the production of plant-derived secondary metabolites

Secondary metabolites derived from plants are a valuable source of pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, and cosmetics. Well-known examples are the compounds carotene, artemisinin and resveratrol. In most cases only limited amounts of these compounds can be isolated from plants and the structures of these compounds are very complex making chemical synthesis challenging and expensive. Therefore, to harness the potential of these natural products, an attractive alternative is to express the plant biosynthetic pathway genes in a microbial host, such as the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The production of these metabolites is then further improved by engineering the metabolic pathway and/or microbial host.

Scope of the project:

The goal of this project is to engineer Saccharomyces cerevisiae for the sustainable production of high value and industrially relevant plant secondary metabolites, such as pigments (natural colours), terpenes and plant hormones. To achieve this goal, we first identify the plant biosynthetic pathway leading to our compound of interest. Then we introduce this pathway in S. cerevisiae and, in parallel, we engineer S. cerevisiae for optimized production of this compound. Subsequently, we will ferment the newly developed S. cerevisiae strains and perform metabolomics to identify the compound of interest. Further rounds of engineering might be required to improve productivity of these strains. In addition to an industrial application, expression of these plant enzymes in yeast will also provide us insight in how and why these compounds are produced in plants. We make use of the latest methods in molecular biology, metabolic engineering (e.g. CRISPR-Cas9), synthetic biology and fermentation.

Contact information:

There are several subjects available for a thesis/internship. The subject will of course also depend on the student’s wishes/interests and on the stage of the project.

For more information about a thesis/internship, or other form of student project, please feel free to contact me by e-mail: mark.levisson@wur.nl