Discovery of potential pathways for biological conversion of poplar wood into lipids by co-fermentation of Rhodococci strains Academic Article uri icon


  • Background: Biological routes for utilizing both carbohydrates and lignin are important to reach the ultimate goal of bioconversion of full carbon in biomass into biofuels and biochemicals. Recent biotechnology advances have shown promises toward facilitating biological transformation of lignin into lipids. Natural and engineered Rhodococcus strains (e.g., R. opacus PD630, R. jostii RHA1, and R. jostii RHA1 VanA-) have been demonstrated to utilize lignin for lipid production, and co-culture of them can promote lipid production from lignin. Results: In this study, a co-fermentation module of natural and engineered Rhodococcus strains with significant improved lignin degradation and/or lipid biosynthesis capacities was established, which enabled simultaneous conversion of glucose, lignin, and its derivatives into lipids. Although Rhodococci sp. showed preference to glucose over lignin, nearly half of the lignin was quickly depolymerized to monomers by these strains for cell growth and lipid synthesis after glucose was nearly consumed up. Profiles of metabolites produced by Rhodococcus strains growing on different carbon sources (e.g., glucose, alkali lignin, and dilute acid flowthrough-pretreated poplar wood slurry) confirmed lignin conversion during co-fermentation, and indicated novel metabolic capacities and unexplored metabolic pathways in these organisms. Proteome profiles suggested that lignin depolymerization by Rhodococci sp. involved multiple peroxidases with accessory oxidases. Besides the β-ketoadipate pathway, the phenylacetic acid (PAA) pathway was another potential route for the in vivo ring cleavage activity. In addition, deficiency of reducing power and cellular oxidative stress probably led to lower lipid production using lignin as the sole carbon source than that using glucose. Conclusions: This work demonstrated a potential strategy for efficient bioconversion of both lignin and glucose into lipids by co-culture of multiple natural and engineered Rhodococcus strains. In addition, the involvement of PAA pathway in lignin degradation can help to further improve lignin utilization, and the combinatory proteomics and bioinformatics strategies used in this study can also be applied into other systems to reveal the metabolic and regulatory pathways for balanced cellular metabolism and to select genetic targets for efficient conversion of both lignin and carbohydrates into biofuels.

author list (cited authors)

  • Li, X., He, Y., Zhang, L., Xu, Z., Ben, H., Gaffrey, M. J., ... Yang, B.

citation count

  • 36

complete list of authors

  • Li, Xiaolu||He, Yucai||Zhang, Libing||Xu, Zhangyang||Ben, Haoxi||Gaffrey, Matthew J||Yang, Yongfu||Yang, Shihui||Yuan, Joshua S||Qian, Wei-Jun||Yang, Bin

publication date

  • March 2019