Charles F. Budde, Sebastian L. Riedel, Laura B. Willis, ChoKyun Rha, Anthony J. Sinskey
Bldg. 68-370, Department of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02139.
The polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) copolymer poly(3-hydroxybutyrate-co-3-hydroxyhexanoate) [P(HB-co-HHx)] has been shown to have potential to serve as a commercial bioplastic. Synthesis of P(HB-co-HHx) from plant oil has been demonstrated with recombinant Ralstonia eutropha strains expressing heterologous PHA synthases capable of incorporating HB and HHx into the polymer. With these strains, however, short-chain-length fatty acids had to be included in the medium to generate PHA with high HHx content. Our group has engineered two R. eutropha strains that accumulate high levels of P(HB-co-HHx) with significant HHx content directly from palm oil, one of the world's most abundant plant oils. The strains express a newly characterized PHA synthase gene from the bacterium Rhodococcus aetherivorans I24. Expression of an enoyl coenzyme A (enoyl-CoA) hydratase gene (phaJ) from Pseudomonas aeruginosa was shown to increase PHA accumulation. Furthermore, varying the activity of acetoacetyl-CoA reductase (encoded by phaB) altered the level of HHx in the polymer. The strains with the highest PHA titers utilized plasmids for recombinant gene expression, so an R. eutropha plasmid stability system was developed. In this system, the essential pyrroline-5-carboxylate reductase gene proC was deleted from strain genomes and expressed from a plasmid, making the plasmid necessary for growth in minimal media. This study resulted in two engineered strains for production of P(HB-co-HHx) from palm oil. In palm oil fermentations, one strain accumulated 71% of its cell dry weight as PHA with 17 mol% HHx, while the other strain accumulated 66% of its cell dry weight as PHA with 30 mol% HHx.