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Uncovering secrets of fatty yeast helps biofuels out
  English.dicp.cas.cn    Posted:2012-10-15

Microbial lipid production by fatty microbes from renewable biomasses holds a great promise for advanced biofuels, as lipids can be readily converted into drop-in biofuels, including biodiesel. Since 2004, the Biomass Conversion Technology Group of Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics has been focusing on microbial lipid production, as it is key to the “Biomass-to-Biodiesel” technology advocated by the group leader, Prof. Zongbao K. Zhao. The red yeast Rhodosporidium toruloideshas been identified as a robust lipid producer capable of accumulating lipids over 70% of its dry cell mass. However, only limited progress has been made in the engineering of this yeast, largely because genetic backgrounds of naturally oleaginous microorganisms remain poorly documented.

In a multi-omic study published this month in Nature Communications (Nat. Commun. 2012, 3:1112. doi:10.1038/ncomms2112), Zhao and co-workers have sequenced and assembled the 20.2-Mb genome of R. toruloides, and predicted 8171 protein-coding genes.Since gene prediction and annotation were performed with the help of transcriptome sequencing with the RNA-seq technology, it is believed to have a high quality genome dataset. The researchers have prepared samples of this yeast separately in nitrogen-rich media without lipid accumulation and nitrogen-limited media with lipid accumulation. Transcriptome and proteome analysis of those samples with state-of-the-art technologies has identified 2030 genes that were differentially transcripted, with abundance levels of 538 proteins being significantlychanged.Further investigation indicated that nitrogen limitation resulted in the improving of nitrogen utilization efficiency by upregulating nitrogen metabolism related genesactivating cell autophagyand reducing activity of macromolecule (proteins and nucleic acids) biosynthesis. It was also found that enzymes involved in lipogenesis were regulated at multiple levels. Collectively, the secrets of lipid accumulation are behind global cellular responses to nutrient limitation.

This study has provided research communities of energy biotechnology with valuable resources to study and engineer microbial lipid production. Efforts are anticipated to include revealing of the mechanism of lipid accumulation with systems biology approach, and establishing of cell factories for the production of advanced biofuels and valuable chemicals.

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