Balancing the non-linear rosmarinic acid biosynthetic pathway by modular co-culture engineering

Zhenghong Li, Xiaonan Wang, Haoran Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

19 Scopus citations


Pathway balancing is a critical and common challenge for microbial biosynthesis using metabolic engineering approaches. Non-linear biosynthetic pathways, such as diverging and converging pathways, are particularly difficult for bioproduction optimization, because they require delicate balancing between all interconnected constituent pathway modules. The emergence of modular co-culture engineering offers a new perspective for biosynthetic pathways modularization and balancing, as the biosynthetic capabilities of individual pathway modules can be coordinated by flexible adjustment of the subpopulation ratio of the co-culture strains carrying the designated modules. This study developed microbial co-cultures composed of multiple metabolically engineered E. coli strains for heterologous biosynthesis of complex natural product rosmarinic acid (RA) whose biosynthesis involves a complex diverging-converging pathway. Our results showed that, compared with the conventional mono-culture strategy, the engineered two-strain co-cultures significantly improved the RA production. Further pathway modularization and balancing in the context of three-strain co-cultures resulted in additional production improvement. Moreover, metabolically engineered co-culture strains utilizing different carbon substrates were recruited to improve the three-strain co-culture stability. The optimized co-culture based on these efforts produced 172 mg/L RA, exhibiting 38-fold biosynthesis improvement over the parent strain used in mono-culture biosynthesis. The findings of this work demonstrate the strong potentials of modular co-culture engineering for overcoming the challenges of complex natural product biosynthesis involving non-linear pathways.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalMetabolic Engineering
StatePublished - Jul 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Bioengineering
  • Biotechnology


  • Microbial biosynthesis
  • Modular co-culture engineering
  • Non-linear biosynthetic pathway
  • Pathway balancing
  • Rosmarinic acid

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