Conversion of xylose to ethanol by recombinant Saccharomyces cerevisiae: Importance of xylulokinase (XKS1) and oxygen availability

Mervi H. Toivari, Aristos Aristidou, Laura Ruohonen, Merja Penttilä

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    207 Citations (Scopus)


    The yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae efficiently ferments hexose sugars to ethanol, but it is unable to utilize xylose, a pentose sugar abundant in lignocellulosic materials. Recombinant strains containing genes coding for xylose reductase (XR) and xylitol dehydrogenase (XDH) from the xylose-utilizing yeast Pichia stipitis have been reported; however, such strains ferment xylose to ethanol poorly. One reason for this may be the low capacity of xylulokinase, the third enzyme in the xylose pathway. To investigate the potential limitation of the xylulokinase step, we have overexpressed the endogenous gene for this enzyme (XKS1) in S. cerevisiae that also expresses the P. stipitis genes for XR and XDH. The metabolism of this recombinant yeast was further investigated in pure xylose bioreactor cultivation at various oxygen levels. The results clearly indicated that overexpression of XKS1 significantly enhances the specific rate of xylose utilization. In addition, the XK-overexpressing strain can more efficiently convert xylose to ethanol under all aeration conditions studied. One of the important illustrations is the significant anaerobic and aerobic xylose conversion to ethanol by the recombinant Saccharomyces; moreover, this was achieved on pure xylose as a carbon. Under microaerobic conditions, 5.4 g L-1 ethanol was produced from 47 g L-1 xylose during 100 h. In fedbatch cultivations using a mixture of xylose and glucose as carbon sources, the specific ethanol production rate was highest at the highest aeration rate tested and declined by almost one order of magnitude at lower aeration levels. Intracellular metabolite analyses and in vitro enzyme activities suggest the following: the control of flux in a strain that overexpresses XKS1 has shifted to the nonoxidative steps of the pentose phosphate pathway (i.e., downstream of xylose 5-phosphate), and enzymatic steps in the lower part of glycolysis and ethanol formation pathways (pyruvate kinase, pyruvate decarboxylase, and alcohol dehydrogenase) do not have a high flux control in this recombinant strain. Furthermore, the intracellular ATP levels were found to be significantly lower for the XK strain compared with either the control strain under similar conditions or glucose-grown Saccharomyces. The ATP:ADP ratios were also lower for the XK strain, especially under microaerobic conditions (0.9 vs 6.4).

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)236-249
    JournalMetabolic Engineering
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2001
    MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


    • Ethanol
    • Metabolic engineering
    • Renewable resources
    • Saccharomyces cerevisiae
    • Xylose
    • Xylulokinase


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