Enhanced limonene production in cyanobacteria reveals photosynthesis limitations.
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Terpenes are the major secondary metabolites produced by plants, and have diverse industrial applications as pharmaceuticals, fragrance, solvents, and biofuels. Cyanobacteria are equipped with efficient carbon fixation mechanism, and are ideal cell factories to produce various fuel and chemical products. Past efforts to produce terpenes in photosynthetic organisms have gained only limited success. Here we engineered the cyanobacterium Synechococcus elongatus PCC 7942 to efficiently produce limonene through modeling guided study. Computational modeling of limonene flux in response to photosynthetic output has revealed the downstream terpene synthase as a key metabolic flux-controlling node in the MEP (2-C-methyl-d-erythritol 4-phosphate) pathway-derived terpene biosynthesis. By enhancing the downstream limonene carbon sink, we achieved over 100-fold increase in limonene productivity, in contrast to the marginal increase achieved through stepwise metabolic engineering. The establishment of a strong limonene flux revealed potential synergy between photosynthate output and terpene biosynthesis, leading to enhanced carbon flux into the MEP pathway. Moreover, we show that enhanced limonene flux would lead to NADPH accumulation, and slow down photosynthesis electron flow. Fine-tuning ATP/NADPH toward terpene biosynthesis could be a key parameter to adapt photosynthesis to support biofuel/bioproduct production in cyanobacteria.