Engineering oleaginous yeast Rhodotorula toruloides for overproduction of fatty acid ethyl esters

Yang Zhang, Jie Peng, Huimin Zhao, Shuobo Shi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Production of biofuels and green chemicals by microbes is currently of great interest due to the increasingly limited reserves of fossil fuels. Biodiesel, especially fatty acid ethyl esters (FAEEs), is considered as an attractive alternative because of its similarity with petrodiesel and compatibility with existing infrastructures. Cost-efficient bio-production of FAEEs requires a highly lipogenic production host that is suitable for large-scale fermentation. As a non-model oleaginous yeast that can be cultured to an extremely high cell density and accumulate over 70% cell mass as lipids, Rhodotorula toruloides represents an attractive host for FAEEs production. Results: We first constructed the FAEE biosynthetic pathways in R. toruloides by introducing various wax ester synthase genes from different sources, and the bifunctional wax ester synthase/acyl-CoA-diacyglycerol acyltransferase (WS/DGAT) gene from Acinetobacter baylyi was successfully expressed, leading to a production of 826 mg/L FAEEs through shake-flask cultivation. We then mutated this bifunctional enzyme to abolish the DGAT activity, and further improved the titer to 1.02 g/L. Finally, to elevate the performance of Δku70-AbWS* in a bioreactor, both batch and fed-batch cultivation strategies were performed. The FAEEs titer, productivity and yield were 4.03 g/L, 69.5 mg/L/h and 57.9 mg/g (mg FAEEs/g glucose) under batch cultivation, and 9.97 g/L, 90.6 mg/L/h, and 86.1 mg/g under fed-batch cultivation. It is worth mentioning that most of the produced FAEEs were secreted out of the cell, which should greatly reduce the cost of downstream processing. Conclusion: We achieved the highest FAEEs production in yeast with a final titer of 9.97 g/L and demonstrated that the engineered R. toruloides has the potential to serve as a platform strain for efficient production of fatty acid-derived molecules.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number115
JournalBiotechnology for Biofuels
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Biodiesel
  • Enzyme engineering
  • Fatty acid ethyl esters
  • Metabolic engineering
  • R. toruloides
  • Wax ester synthase

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Energy(all)
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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