Genome-wide Escherichia coli stress response and improved tolerance towards industrially relevant chemicals

Martin Holm Rau, Patricia Calero Valdayo, Rebecca Lennen, Katherine Long, Alex Toftgaard Nielsen

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Economically viable biobased production of bulk chemicals and biofuels typically requires high product titers. During microbial bioconversion this often leads to product toxicity, and tolerance is therefore a critical element in the engineering of production strains. Here, a systems biology approach was employed to understand the chemical stress response of Escherichia coli, including a genome-wide screen for mutants with increased fitness during chemical stress. Twelve chemicals with significant production potential were selected, consisting of organic solvent-like chemicals (butanol, hydroxy-γ-butyrolactone, 1,4-butanediol, furfural), organic acids (acetate, itaconic acid, levulinic acid, succinic acid), amino acids (serine, threonine) and membrane-intercalating chemicals (decanoic acid, geraniol). The transcriptional response towards these chemicals revealed large overlaps of transcription changes within and between chemical groups, with functions such as energy metabolism, stress response, membrane modification, transporters and iron metabolism being affected. Regulon enrichment analysis identified key regulators likely mediating the transcriptional response, including CRP, RpoS, OmpR, ArcA, Fur and GadX. These regulators, the genes within their regulons and the above mentioned cellular functions therefore constitute potential targets for increasing E. coli chemical tolerance. Fitness determination of genome-wide transposon mutants (Tn-seq) subjected to the same chemical stress identified 294 enriched and 336 depleted mutants and experimental validation revealed up to 60 % increase in mutant growth rates. Mutants enriched in several conditions contained, among others, insertions in genes of the Mar-Sox-Rob regulon as well as transcription and translation related gene functions. The combination of the transcriptional response and mutant screening provides general targets that can increase tolerance towards not only single, but multiple chemicals.
Original languageEnglish
Article number176
JournalMicrobial Cell Factories
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Bibliographical note

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided 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 Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.


  • Biochemicals
  • Chemical stress
  • Tolerance
  • Systems biology
  • Transcription analysis
  • Tn-seq
  • E. coli


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