Gene Amplification, Laboratory Evolution, and Biosensor Screening Reveal MucK as a Terephthalic Acid Transporter in Acinetobacter baylyi ADP1

Isabel Pardo, Ramesh Jha, Ryan Bermel, Felicia Bratti, Mary Gaddis, Emily McIntyre, William Michener, Ellen Neidle, Taraka Dale, Gregg Beckham, Christopher Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus Citations


Microbial terephthalic acid (TPA) catabolic pathways are conserved among the few bacteria known to turnover this xenobiotic aromatic compound. However, to date there are few reported cases in which this pathway has been successfully expressed in heterologous hosts to impart efficient utilization of TPA as a sole carbon source. In this work, we aimed to engineer TPA conversion in Acinetobacter baylyi ADP1 via the heterologous expression of catabolic and transporter genes from a native TPA-utilizing bacterium. Specifically, we obtained ADP1-derived strains capable of growing on TPA as the sole carbon source using chromosomal insertion and targeted amplification of the tph catabolic operon from Comamonas sp. E6. Adaptive laboratory evolution was then used to improve growth on this substrate. TPA consumption rates of the evolved strains, which retained multiple copies of the tph genes, were ~0.2 g/L/h (or ~1 g TPA/g cells/h), similar to that of Comamonas sp. E6 and almost 2-fold higher than that of Rhodococcus jostii RHA1, another native TPA-utilizing strain. To evaluate TPA transport in the evolved ADP1 strains, we engineered a TPA biosensor consisting of the transcription factor TphR and a fluorescent reporter. In combination with whole-genome sequencing, the TPA biosensor revealed that transport of TPA was not mediated by the heterologous proteins from Comamonas sp. E6. Instead, the endogenous ADP1 muconate transporter MucK, a member of the major facilitator superfamily, was responsible for TPA transport in several evolved strains in which MucK variants were found to enhance TPA uptake. Furthermore, the IclR-type transcriptional regulator DcaS was identified as a repressor of mucK expression. Overall, this work presents an unexpected function of a native protein identified through gene amplification, adaptive laboratory evolution, and a combination of screening methods. This study also provides a TPA biosensor for application in ADP1 and identifies transporter variants for use in metabolic engineering applications focused on plastic upcycling of polyesters.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)260-274
Number of pages15
JournalMetabolic Engineering
StatePublished - Nov 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-2800-77943


  • Acinetobacter baylyi ADP1
  • Adaptive laboratory evolution
  • Major facilitator superfamily transporter
  • mucK
  • Plastics bioconversion
  • Plastics upcycling
  • TPA biosensor


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