Engineering of Yarrowia lipolytica for production of astaxanthin

Kanchana Rueksomtawin Kildegaard, Belén Adiego Pérez, David Doménech Belda, Jaspreet Kaur Khangura, Carina Holkenbrink, Irina Borodina

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Astaxanthin is a red-colored carotenoid, used as food and feed additive. Astaxanthin is mainly produced by chemical synthesis, however, the process is expensive and synthetic astaxanthin is not approved for human consumption. In this study, we engineered the oleaginous yeast Yarrowia lipolytica for de novo production of astaxanthin by fermentation.
First, we screened 12 different Y. lipolytica isolates for β-carotene production by introducing two genes for β-carotene biosynthesis: bi-functional phytoene synthase/lycopene cyclase (crtYB) and phytoene desaturase (crtI) from the red yeast Xanthophyllomyces dendrorhous. The best strain produced 31.1 ± 0.5 mg/L β-carotene. Next, we optimized the activities of 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-coenzyme A reductase (HMG1) and geranylgeranyl diphosphate synthase (GGS1/crtE) in the best producing strain and obtained 453.9 ± 20.2 mg/L β-carotene. Additional downregulation of the competing squalene synthase SQS1 increased the β-carotene titer to 797.1 ± 57.2 mg/L. Then we introduced β-carotene ketolase (crtW) from Paracoccus sp. N81106 and hydroxylase (crtZ) from Pantoea ananatis to convert β-carotene into astaxanthin. The constructed strain accumulated 10.4 ± 0.5 mg/L of astaxanthin but also accumulated astaxanthin biosynthesis intermediates, 5.7 ± 0.5 mg/L canthaxanthin, and 35.3 ± 1.8 mg/L echinenone. Finally, we optimized the copy numbers of crtZ and crtW to obtain 3.5 mg/g DCW (54.6 mg/L) of astaxanthin in a microtiter plate cultivation.
Our study for the first time reports engineering of Y. lipolytica for the production of astaxanthin. The high astaxanthin content and titer obtained even in a small-scale cultivation demonstrates a strong potential for Y. lipolytica-based fermentation process for astaxanthin production.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSynthetic and Systems Biotechnology
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)287-294
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Bibliographical note

Open Access funded by KeAi Communications Co Under a Creative Commons license


  • Astaxanthin
  • β-carotene
  • Isoprenoids
  • Oleaginous yeast
  • Yarrowia lipolytica
  • Metabolic engineering

Cite this

Kildegaard, K. R., Adiego Pérez, B., Doménech Belda, D., Khangura, J. K., Holkenbrink, C., & Borodina, I. (2017). Engineering of Yarrowia lipolytica for production of astaxanthin. Synthetic and Systems Biotechnology, 2(4), 287-294.