Directed evolution of Escherichia coli farnesyl diphosphate synthase (IspA) reveals novel structural determinants of chain length specificity

Pyung Cheon Lee, Ralf Petri, Benjamin N. Mijts, Kevin T. Watts, Claudia Schmidt-Dannert

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Directed evolution of farnesyl diphosphate (FPP, C15) synthase (IspA) of Escherichia coli was carried out by error-prone PCR with a color complementation screen utilizing C40 carotenoid pathway enzymes. This allowed IspA mutants with enhanced production of the C40 carotenoid precursor geranylgeranyl diphosphate (GGPP, C20) to be readily identified. Analysis of these mutants was carried out in order to better understand the mechanisms of product chain length specificity in this enzyme. The 12 evolved clones having enhanced C20 GGPP production have characteristic mutations in the conserved regions of prenyl diphosphate synthases (designated regions I through VII). Some of these mutations (I76T, Y79S, Y79H, C75Y, H83Y, and H83Q) are found near or before the conserved first aspartate rich motif (FARM), which is involved in the mechanism for chain elongation reaction of all prenyl synthases. Molecular modeling suggested a mechanism for chain length determination for these mutations including substitutions at the 1st and 9th amino acids upstream of the FARM that have not been reported previously. In addition, a mutation on a helix adjacent to the FARM within the substrate-binding pocket (D115G) suggests a novel mechanism for chain length determination. One mutant IspA clone carries a mutation of C155G at the 2nd amino acid upstream of conserved region IV (GQxxDL), which was recently found to be an important region controlling the chain elongation of a Type III GGPP synthase. One IspA clone carries mutations (T234A and T249I) near the conserved second aspartate rich motif (SARM). As a verification of the in vivo activity of the mutant clones (represented as C40 carotenoid formation), we confirmed the product distribution of wild-type and mutant IspA using an in vitro assay.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)18-26
Number of pages9
JournalMetabolic Engineering
Issue number1 SPEC. ISS.
StatePublished - Jan 2005

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by grants from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA-BIOS N66001-02-1-8928).


  • Carotenoid
  • FPP synthase
  • In vitro evolution
  • Prenyl diphosphate synthase


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