Author: Thaila dos Reis
The conversion of lignocellulosic biomass to biofuels (second-generation biofuel production) is an environmentally friendlier alternative to petroleum-based energy sources. Enzymatic deconstruction of lignocellulose, catalyzed by filamentous fungi such as Aspergillus nidulans, releases a mixture of mono- and polysaccharides, including hexose (glucose) and pentose (xylose) sugars, cellodextrins (cellobiose), and xylooligosaccharides (xylobiose). These sugars can subsequently be fermented by yeast cells to ethanol. One of the major drawbacks in this process lies in the inability of yeast, such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae, to successfully internalize sugars other than glucose. The aim of this study was, therefore, to screen the genome of A. nidulans, which encodes a multitude of sugar transporters, for transporters able to internalize non-glucose sugars and characterize them when introduced into S. cerevisiae.
This work identified two proteins in A. nidulans, CltA and CltB, with roles in cellobiose transport and cellulose signaling, respectively. CltA, when introduced into S. cerevisiae, conferred growth on low and high concentrations of cellobiose. Deletion of cltB resulted in reduced growth and extracellular cellulase activity in A. nidulans in the presence of cellobiose. CltB, when introduced into S. cerevisiae, was not able to confer growth on cellobiose, suggesting that this protein is a sensor rather than a transporter. However, we have shown that the introduction of additional functional copies of CltB increases the growth in the presence of low concentrations of cellobiose, strongly indicating CltB is able to transport cellobiose. Furthermore, a previously identified glucose transporter, HxtB, was also found to be a major xylose transporter in A. nidulans. In S. cerevisiae, HxtB conferred growth on xylose which was accompanied by ethanol production.
This work identified a cellobiose transporter, a xylose transporter, and a putative cellulose transceptor in A. nidulans. This is the first time that a sensor role for a protein in A. nidulans has been proposed. Both transporters are also able to transport glucose, highlighting the preference of A. nidulans for this carbon source. This work provides a basis for future studies which aim at characterizing and/or genetically engineering Aspergillus spp. transporters, which, in addition to glucose, can also internalize other carbon sources, to improve transport and fermentation of non-glucose sugars in S. cerevisiae.