Impact of classical strain improvement of penicillium rubens on amino acid metabolism during β-Lactam production

Min Wu, Ciprian G. Crismaru, Oleksandr Salo, Roel A. L. Bovenberg, Arnold J. M. Driessen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


To produce high levels of β-lactams, the filamentous fungus Penicillium rubens (previously named Penicillium chrysogenum) has been subjected to an extensive classical strain improvement (CSI) program during the last few decades. This has led to the accumulation of many mutations that were spread over the genome. Detailed analysis reveals that several mutations targeted genes that encode enzymes involved in amino acid metabolism, in particular biosynthesis of L-cysteine, one of the amino acids used for β-lactam production. To examine the impact of the mutations on enzyme function, the respective genes with and without the mutations were cloned and expressed in Escherichia coli, purified, and enzymatically analyzed. Mutations severely impaired the activities of a threonine and serine deaminase, and this inactivates metabolic pathways that compete for L-cysteine biosynthesis. Tryptophan synthase, which converts L-serine into L-tryptophan, was inactivated by a mutation, whereas a mutation in 5-aminolevulinate synthase, which utilizes glycine, was without an effect. Importantly, CSI caused increased expression levels of a set of genes directly involved in cysteine biosynthesis. These results suggest that CSI has resulted in improved cysteine biosynthesis by the inactivation of the enzymatic conversions that directly compete for resources with the cysteine biosynthetic pathway, consistent with the notion that cysteine is a key component during penicillin production. IMPORTANCE Penicillium rubens is an important industrial producer of β-lactam antibiotics. High levels of penicillin production were enforced through extensive mutagenesis during a classical strain improvement (CSI) program over 70 years. Several mutations targeted amino acid metabolism and resulted in enhanced L-cysteine biosynthesis. This work provides a molecular explanation for the interrelation between secondary metabolite production and amino acid metabolism and how classical strain improvement has resulted in improved production strains.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere01561
Number of pages14
JournalApplied and environmental microbiology
Issue number3
Early online date22-Nov-2019
Publication statusPublished - 1-Feb-2020


  • Amino acid metabolism
  • Classical strain improvement
  • Cysteine biosynthesis
  • Mutation
  • Penicillin production
  • Penicillium rubens

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