Engineering cascade biocatalysis in whole cells for bottom-up synthesis of cello-oligosaccharides: flux control over three enzymatic steps enables soluble production

Katharina N. Schwaiger, Alena Voit, Birgit Wiltschi, Bernd Nidetzky*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Soluble cello-oligosaccharides (COS, β‐1,4‐D‐gluco‐oligosaccharides with degree of polymerization DP 2–6) have been receiving increased attention in different industrial sectors, from food and feed to cosmetics. Development of large-scale COS applications requires cost-effective technologies for their production. Cascade biocatalysis by the three enzymes sucrose-, cellobiose- and cellodextrin phosphorylase is promising because it enables bottom-up synthesis of COS from expedient substrates such as sucrose and glucose. A whole-cell-derived catalyst that incorporates the required enzyme activities from suitable co-expression would represent an important step towards making the cascade reaction fit for production. Multi-enzyme co-expression to reach distinct activity ratios is challenging in general, but it requires special emphasis for the synthesis of COS. Only a finely tuned balance between formation and elongation of the oligosaccharide precursor cellobiose results in the desired COS. Results: Here, we show the integration of cellodextrin phosphorylase into a cellobiose-producing whole-cell catalyst. We arranged the co-expression cassettes such that their expression levels were upregulated. The most effective strategy involved a custom vector design that placed the coding sequences for cellobiose phosphorylase (CbP), cellodextrin phosphorylase (CdP) and sucrose phosphorylase (ScP) in a tricistron in the given order. The expression of the tricistron was controlled by the strong T7lacO promoter and strong ribosome binding sites (RBS) for each open reading frame. The resulting whole-cell catalyst achieved a recombinant protein yield of 46% of total intracellular protein in an optimal ScP:CbP:CdP activity ratio of 10:2.9:0.6, yielding an overall activity of 315 U/g dry cell mass. We demonstrated that bioconversion catalyzed by a semi-permeabilized whole-cell catalyst achieved an industrial relevant COS product titer of 125 g/L and a space–time yield of 20 g/L/h. With CbP as the cellobiose providing enzyme, flux into higher oligosaccharides (DP ≥ 6) was prevented and no insoluble products were formed after 6 h of conversion. Conclusions: A whole-cell catalyst for COS biosynthesis was developed. The coordinated co-expression of the three biosynthesis enzymes balanced the activities of the individual enzymes such that COS production was maximized. With the flux control set to minimize the share of insolubles in the product, the whole-cell synthesis shows a performance with respect to yield, productivity, product concentration and quality that is promising for industrial production.

Original languageEnglish
Article number61
JournalMicrobial Cell Factories
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


  • Activity ratios
  • Cello-oligosaccharides
  • Co-expression
  • Multi-enzymatic cascade
  • Whole-cell catalyst

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Bioengineering
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology


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