Membrane transporter identification and modulation via adaptive laboratory evolution

Mohammad S Radi, Jesus E SalcedoSora, Se Hyeuk Kim, Suresh Sudarsan, Anand V Sastry, Douglas B. Kell, Markus J. Herrgård, Adam M Feist

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Membrane transport proteins are potential targets for medical and biotechnological applications. However, more than 30% of reported membrane transporter families are either poorly characterized or lack adequate functional annotation. Here, adaptive laboratory evolution was leveraged to identify membrane transporters for a set of four amino acids as well as specific mutations that modulate the activities of these transporters. Specifically, Escherichia coli was adaptively evolved under increasing concentrations of L-histidine, L-phenylalanine, L-threonine, and L-methionine separately with multiple replicate evolutions. Evolved populations and isolated clones displayed growth rates comparable to the unstressed ancestral strain at elevated concentrations (four-to six-fold increases) of the targeted amino acids. Whole genome sequencing of the evolved strains revealed a diverse number of key mutations, including SNPs, small deletions, and copy number variants targeting the transporters leuE for histidine, yddG for phenylalanine, yedA for methionine, and brnQ and rhtC for threonine. Reverse engineering of the mutations in the ancestral strain established mutation causality of the specific mutations for the tolerant phenotypes. The functional roles of yedA and brnQ in the transport of methionine and threonine, respectively, are novel assignments and their functional roles were validated using a flow cytometry cellular accumulation assay. To demonstrate how the identified transporters can be leveraged for production, an L-phenylalanine overproduction strain was shown to be a superior producer when the identified yddG exporter was overexpressed. Overall, the results revealed the striking efficiency of laboratory evolution to identify transporters and specific mutational mechanisms to modulate their activities, thereby demonstrating promising applicability in transporter discovery efforts and strain engineering.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMetabolic Engineering
Pages (from-to)376-390
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Membrane transporters
  • Adaptive laboratory evolution
  • Amino acids
  • Escherichia coli


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