A transition toward sustainable bio-based chemical production is important for green growth. However, productivity and yield frequently decrease as large-scale microbial fermentation progresses, commonly ascribed to phenotypic variation. Yet, given the high metabolic burden and toxicities, evolutionary processes may also constrain bio-based production. We experimentally simulate large-scale fermentation with mevalonic acid-producing Escherichia coli. By tracking growth rate and production, we uncover how populations fully sacrifice production to gain fitness within 70 generations. Using ultra-deep (>1000×) time-lapse sequencing of the pathway populations, we identify multiple recurring intra-pathway genetic error modes. This genetic heterogeneity is only detected using deep-sequencing and new population-level bioinformatics, suggesting that the problem is underestimated. A quantitative model explains the population dynamics based on enrichment of spontaneous mutant cells. We validate our model by tuning production load and escape rate of the production host and apply multiple orthogonal strategies for postponing genetically driven production declines.
Bibliographical noteThis article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give
appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material