Both industrial biotechnology and the use of cellulosic biomass as feedstock for the manufacture of various commercial goods are prominent features of the bioeconomy. In previous work, with the aim of developing a consolidated bioprocess for cellulose bioconversion, we conferred cellulolytic activity of Yarrowia lipolytica, one of the most widely studied "nonconventional" oleaginous yeast species. However, further engineering this strain often leads to the loss of previously introduced heterologous genes due to the presence of multiple LoxP sites when using Cre-recombinase to remove previously employed selection markers.
In the present study, we first optimized the strategy of expression of multiple cellulases and rescued selection makers to obtain an auxotrophic cellulolytic Y. lipolytica strain. Then we pursued the quest, exemplifying how this cellulolytic Y. lipolytica strain can be used as a CBP platform for the production of target products. Our results reveal that overexpression of SCD1 gene, encoding stearoyl-CoA desaturase, and DGA1, encoding acyl-CoA:diacylglycerol acyltransferase, confers the obese phenotype to the cellulolytic Y. lipolytica. When grown in batch conditions and minimal medium, the resulting strain consumed 12 g/L cellulose and accumulated 14% (dry cell weight) lipids. Further enhancement of lipid production was achieved either by the addition of glucose or by enhancing cellulose consumption using a commercial cellulase cocktail. Regarding the latter option, although the addition of external cellulases is contrary to the concept of CBP, the amount of commercial cocktail used remained 50% lower than that used in a conventional process (i.e., without internalized production of cellulases). The introduction of the LIP2 gene into cellulolytic Y. lipolytica led to the production of a strain capable of producing lipase 2 while growing on cellulose. Remarkably, when the strain was grown on glucose, the expression of six cellulases did not alter the level of lipase production. When grown in batch conditions on cellulose, the engineered strain consumed 16 g/L cellulose and produced 9.0 U/mL lipase over a 96-h period. The lipase yield was 562 U lipase/g cellulose, which represents 60% of that obtained on glucose. Finally, expression of the hydroxylase from Claviceps purpurea (CpFAH12) in cellulolytic Y. lipolytica procured a strain that can produce ricinoleic acid (RA). Using this strain in batch cultures revealed that the consumption of 11 g/L cellulose sustained the production of 2.2 g/L RA in the decane phase, 69% of what was obtained on glucose.
In summary, this study has further demonstrated the potential of cellulolytic Y. lipolytica as a microbial platform for the bioconversion of cellulose into target products. Its ability to be used in consolidated process designs has been exemplified and clues revealing how cellulose consumption can be further enhanced using commercial cellulolytic cocktails are provided.