Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology, Vol.104, No.11, 5011-5023, 2020
A novel regulatory pathway consisting of a two-component system and an ABC-type transporter contributes to butanol tolerance in Clostridium acetobutylicum
Despite the long-term interest in solventogenic clostridia-based ABE (acetone-butanol-ethanol) fermentation, clostridial butanol tolerance and its underlying mechanism remain poorly understood, which is a major obstacle hindering further improvements of this important fermentative process. In this study, a two-component system (TCS), BtrK/BtrR, was identified and demonstrated to positively regulate butanol tolerance and ABE solvent formation in Clostridium acetobutylicum, a representative species of solventogenic clostridia. The transcriptomic analysis results showed that BtrK/BtrR has a pleiotropic regulatory function, affecting a large number of crucial genes and metabolic pathways. Of the differentially expressed genes, btrTM, encoding a putative ABC-type transporter (named BtrTM), was shown to be under the direct control of BtrR, the response regulator of the BtrK/BtrR TCS. Furthermore, BtrTM was shown to contribute to more butanol tolerance (46.5% increase) by overexpression, revealing a novel regulatory mechanism consisting of the BtrK/BtrR TCS and the BtrTM transporter in C. acetobutylicum. Based on these findings, we achieved faster growth and solvent production of C. acetobutylicum by overexpressing BtrK/BtrR or its direct target BtrTM, although no significant improvement in the final butanol titer and yield. These results further confirm the importance of BtrK/BtrR and BtrTM in this organism. Also, of significance, a specific number of btrR-btrT-btrM-btrK-like gene clusters were identified in other Clostridium species, including the pathogens Clostridium perfringens and Clostridium botulinum, indicating a broad role for this regulatory module in the class Clostridia.