Terpenes constitute the largest class of natural products with over 55,000 compounds with versatile applications including drugs and biofuels. Introducing structural modifications to terpenes through metabolic engineering is an efficient and sustainable way to improve their properties. Here, we report the optimization of the lepidopteran mevalonate (LMVA) pathway towards the efficient production of isopentenyl pyrophosphate (IPP) analogs as terpene precursors. First, we linked the LMVA pathway to NudB, a promiscuous phosphatase, resulting in the production of the six-carbon analog of 3-methyl-3-buten-1-ol (isoprenol), 3-ethyl-3-buten-1-ol (C6-isoprenol). Using C6-isoprenol as the final product, we then engineered the LMVA pathway by redirecting its upstream portion from a thiolase-dependent pathway to a beta-oxidation pathway. The beta-oxidation LMVA pathway transforms valeric acid, a platform chemical that can be produced from biomass, into C6-isoprenol at a titer of 110.3 mg/L, improved from 5.5 mg/L by the thiolase LMVA pathway, which used propionic acid as a feedstock. Knockout of the E. coli endogenous thiolase genes further improved the C6-isoprenol titer to 390 mg/L, implying efficient production of homo isopentenyl pyrophosphate (HIPP). The beta-oxidation LMVA-NudB pathway also converts butanoic acid and hexanoic acid into isoprenol and isoprenol's seven-carbon analog, 3-propyl-3-buten-1-ol (C7-isoprenol), respectively, suggesting the beta-oxidation LMVA pathway produces IPP and C7-IPP from the corresponding fatty acids. Fuel property tests revealed the longer chain isoprenol analogs have lower water solubilities, similar or higher energy densities, and comparable research octane number (RON) boosting effects to isopentenols. This work not only optimizes the LMVA pathway, setting the basis for homoterpene biosynthesis to expand terpene chemical space, but provides an efficient pathway to produce isoprenol analogs as next-generation biofuels from sustainable feedstocks.
- Lepidopteran mevalonate pathway
- Beta oxidation
- Homo isopentenyl pyrophosphate