Rhamnolipids have multiple potential applications as "green" surfactants for industry, remediation, and medicine. As a result, they have been intensively investigated to add to our understanding of their biosynthesis and improve yields. Several studies have noted that the addition of a fatty acid cosubstrate increases rhamnolipid yields, but a metabolic explanation has not been offered, partly because biosynthesis studies to date have used sugar or sugar derivatives as the carbon source. The objective of this study was to investigate the role of fatty acid cosubstrates in improving rhamnolipid biosynthesis. A combination of stable isotope tracing and gene expression assays was used to identify lipid precursors and potential lipid metabolic pathways used in rhamnolipid synthesis when fatty acid cosubstrates are present. To this end, we compared the rhamnolipids produced and their yields using either glucose alone or glucose and octadecanoic acid-d35 as cosubstrates. Using a combination of sugar and fatty acids, the rhamnolipid yield was significantly higher (i.e., doubled) than when glucose was used alone. Two patterns of deuterium incorporation (either 1 or 15 deuterium atoms) in a single Rha-C10 lipid chain were observed for octadecanoic acid-d35 treatment, indicating that in the presence of a fatty acid cosubstrate, both de novo fatty acid synthesis and β-oxidation are used to provide lipid precursors for rhamnolipids. Gene expression assays showed a 200- to 600-fold increase in the expression of rhlA and rhlB rhamnolipid biosynthesis genes and a more modest increase of 3- to 4-fold of the fadA β-oxidation pathway gene when octadecanoic acid was present. Taken together, these results suggest that the simultaneous use of de novo fatty acid synthesis and β-oxidation pathways allows for higher production of lipid precursors, resulting in increased rhamnolipid yields.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Food Science
- Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology