Aromatic Catabolic Pathway Selection for Optimal Production of Pyruvate and Lactate from Lignin

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195 Scopus Citations


Lignin represents an untapped feedstock for the production of fuels and chemicals, but its intrinsic heterogeneity makes lignin valorization a significant challenge. In nature, many aerobic organisms degrade lignin-derived aromatic molecules through conserved central intermediates including catechol and protocatechuate. Harnessing this microbial approach offers potential for lignin upgrading in modern biorefineries, but significant technical development is needed to achieve this end. Catechol and protocatechuate are subjected to aromatic ring cleavage by dioxygenase enzymes that, depending on the position, ortho or meta relative to adjacent hydroxyl groups, result in different products that are metabolized through parallel pathways for entry into the TCA cycle. These degradation pathways differ in the combination of succinate, acetyl-CoA, and pyruvate produced, the reducing equivalents regenerated, and the amount of carbon emitted as CO2-factors that will ultimately impact the yield of the targeted product. As shown here, the ring-cleavage pathways can be interchanged with one another, and such substitutions have a predictable and substantial impact on product yield. We demonstrate that replacement of the catechol ortho degradation pathway endogenous to Pseudomonas putida KT2440 with an exogenous meta-cleavage pathway from P. putida mt-2 increases yields of pyruvate produced from aromatic molecules in engineered strains. Even more dramatically, replacing the endogenous protocatechuate ortho pathway with a meta-cleavage pathway from Sphingobium sp. SYK-6 results in a nearly five-fold increase in pyruvate production. We further demonstrate the aerobic conversion of pyruvate to l-lactate with a yield of 41.1±2.6% (wt/wt). Overall, this study illustrates how aromatic degradation pathways can be tuned to optimize the yield of a desired product in biological lignin upgrading.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)240-247
Number of pages8
JournalMetabolic Engineering
StatePublished - 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 International Metabolic Engineering Society.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5100-63922


  • Aromatic degradation
  • Lignin valorization
  • Pseudomonas putida KT2440
  • Sphingobium sp. strain SYK-6
  • β-ketoadipate pathway


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