Geobacter species are among the most effective microorganisms known for the bioremediation of radioactive and toxic metals in contaminated subsurface environments and for converting organic compounds to electricity in microbial fuel cells. However, faster rates of electron transfer could aid in optimizing these processes. Therefore, the Optknock strain design methodology was applied in an iterative manner to the constraint-based, in silico model of Geobacter sulfurreducens to identify gene deletions predicted to increase respiration rates. The common factor in the Optknock predictions was that each resulted in a predicted increase in the cellular ATP demand, either by creating ATP-consuming futile cycles or decreasing the availability of reducing equivalents and inorganic phosphate for ATP biosynthesis. The in silico model predicted that increasing the ATP demand would result in higher fluxes of acetate through the TCA cycle and higher rates of NADPH oxidation coupled with decreases in flux in reactions that funnel acetate toward biosynthetic pathways. A strain of G. sulfurreducens was constructed in which the hydrolytic, F(1) portion of the membrane-bound F(0)F(1) (H(+))-ATP synthase complex was expressed when IPTG was added to the medium. Induction of the ATP drain decreased the ATP content of the cell by more than half. The cells with the ATP drain had higher rates of respiration, slower growth rates, and a lower cell yield. Genome-wide analysis of gene transcript levels indicated that when the higher rate of respiration was induced transcript levels were higher for genes involved in energy metabolism, especially in those encoding TCA cycle enzymes, subunits of the NADH dehydrogenase, and proteins involved in electron acceptor reduction. This was accompanied by lower transcript levels for genes encoding proteins involved in amino acid biosynthesis, cell growth, and motility. Several changes in gene expression that involve processes not included in the in silico model were also detected, including increased expression of a number of redox-active proteins, such as c-type cytochromes and a putative multicopper outer-surface protein. The results demonstrate that it is possible to genetically engineer increased respiration rates in G. sulfurreducens in accordance with predictions from in silico metabolic modeling. To our knowledge, this is the first report of metabolic engineering to increase the respiratory rate of a microorganism.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/derek_lovley/85/