• Generating Phenotypic Diversity in a Fungal Biocatalyst to Investigate Alcohol Stress Tolerance Encountered during Microbial Cellulosic Biofuel Production

      Hennessy, Rosanna C.; Doohan, Fiona; Mullins, Ewen; Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Ireland; RSF 07 513 (PLOS, 16/10/2013)
      Consolidated bioprocessing (CBP) of lignocellulosic biomass offers an alternative route to renewable energy. The crop pathogen Fusarium oxysporum is a promising fungal biocatalyst because of its broad host range and innate ability to co-saccharify and ferment lignocellulose to bioethanol. A major challenge for cellulolytic CBP-enabling microbes is alcohol inhibition. This research tested the hypothesis that Agrobacterium tumefaciens - mediated transformation (ATMT) could be exploited as a tool to generate phenotypic diversity in F. oxysporum to investigate alcohol stress tolerance encountered during CBP. A random mutagenesis library of gene disruption transformants (n=1,563) was constructed and screened for alcohol tolerance in order to isolate alcohol sensitive or tolerant phenotypes. Following three rounds of screening, exposure of select transformants to 6% ethanol and 0.75% n-butanol resulted respectively in increased (≥11.74%) and decreased (≤43.01%) growth compared to the wild –type (WT). Principal component analysis (PCA) quantified the level of phenotypic diversity across the population of genetically transformed individuals and isolated candidate strains for analysis. Characterisation of one strain, Tr. 259, ascertained a reduced growth phenotype under alcohol stress relative to WT and indicated the disruption of a coding region homologous to a putative sugar transporter (FOXG_09625). Quantitative PCR (RT-PCR) showed FOXG_09625 was differentially expressed in Tr. 259 compared to WT during alcohol-induced stress (P<0.05). Phylogenetic analysis of putative sugar transporters suggests diverse functional roles in F. oxysporum and other filamentous fungi compared to yeast for which sugar transporters form part of a relatively conserved family. This study has confirmed the potential of ATMT coupled with a phenotypic screening program to select for genetic variation induced in response to alcohol stress. This research represents a first step in the investigation of alcohol tolerance in F. oxysporum and has resulted in the identification of several novel strains, which will be of benefit to future biofuel research.
    • Insights from the Fungus Fusarium oxysporum Point to High Affinity Glucose Transporters as Targets for Enhancing Ethanol Production from Lignocellulose

      Ali, Shahin S; Nugent, Brian; Mullins, Ewen; Doohan, Fiona; Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Ireland; RSF 07 513 (PLOS, 30/01/2013)
      Ethanol is the most-widely used biofuel in the world today. Lignocellulosic plant biomass derived from agricultural residue can be converted to ethanol via microbial bioprocessing. Fungi such as Fusarium oxysporum can simultaneously saccharify straw to sugars and ferment sugars to ethanol. But there are many bottlenecks that need to be overcome to increase the efficacy of microbial production of ethanol from straw, not least enhancement of the rate of fermentation of both hexose and pentose sugars. This research tested the hypothesis that the rate of sugar uptake by F. oxysporum would enhance the ethanol yields from lignocellulosic straw and that high affinity glucose transporters can enhance ethanol yields from this substrate. We characterized a novel hexose transporter (Hxt) from this fungus. The F. oxysporum Hxt represents a novel transporter with homology to yeast glucose signaling/transporter proteins Rgt2 and Snf3, but it lacks their C-terminal domain which is necessary for glucose signalling. Its expression level decreased with increasing glucose concentration in the medium and in a glucose uptake study the Km(glucose) was 0.9 mM, which indicated that the protein is a high affinity glucose transporter. Post-translational gene silencing or over expression of the Hxt in F. oxysporum directly affected the glucose and xylose transport capacity and ethanol yielded by F. oxysporum from straw, glucose and xylose. Thus we conclude that this Hxt has the capacity to transport both C5 and C6 sugars and to enhance ethanol yields from lignocellulosic material. This study has confirmed that high affinity glucose transporters are ideal candidates for improving ethanol yields from lignocellulose because their activity and level of expression is high in low glucose concentrations, which is very common during the process of consolidated processing.