Vanillin is one of the world's most important flavor compounds with a global market of 180 million dollars. Natural vanillin is derived from the cured seed pods of the vanilla orchid (Vanilla planifolia), but most of the world's vanillin is synthesized from petrochemicals or wood pulp lignins. We have established a true de novo biosynthetic pathway for vanillin production from glucose in Schizosaccharomyces pombe, also known as fission yeast or African beer yeast, as well as in baker's yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Productivities were 65 and 45 mg/liter, after introduction of 3 and 4 heterologous genes, respectively. The engineered pathways involve incorporation of 3-dehydroshikimate dehydratase from the dung mold Podospora pauciseta, an aromatic carboxylic acid reductase (ACAR) from a bacterium of the Nocardia genus and an O-methyl transferase from Homo sapiens. In S. cerevisiae, the ACAR enzyme required activation by phosphopantetheinylation, and this was achieved by co-expression of a Corynebacterium glutamicum phosphopantetheinyl transferase. Prevention of reduction of vanillin to vanillyl alcohol was achieved by knock-out of the host alcohol dehydrogenase ADH6. In S. pombe, the biosynthesis was further improved by introduction of an Arabidopsis thaliana family 1 UDP-glycosyltransferase converting vanillin into vanillin beta-D-glucoside that is not toxic to the yeast cells and thus may be accumulated in higher amounts. These de novo pathways represent the first examples of one-cell microbial generation of these valuable compounds from glucose. S. pombe yeast has not previously been metabolically engineered to produce any valuable, industrially scalable, white biotech commodity.
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